Construction of the $198m plant is to be jointly funded by Microbix and the Hunan provincial government, with the site due to become operational in 2013. A more unusual aspect of the deal will see Microbix construct a replica of the childhood home of Dr Norman Bethune, a Canadian physician who is revered in China for his medical work assisting Chinese communists in resisting the Japanese in the late 1930s.
William Gastle, CEO of Microbix, said: "We've been working for a number of years to bring our technology to market, so today we're delighted to be partnering with the Province of Hunan in building and ultimately operating the most modern and efficient flu vaccine manufacturing facility on the planet. "This will make China a leader in the production of flu vaccines, and Virusmax the technology of choice in helping other manufacturers in other countries expand their capacity to meet the needs of their populations."
For a small biotech such as Microbix to broker a deal with the Chinese government is an impressive feat, which the company put down to meeting the right people and the historic-friendship between Canada and China, symbolized by the construction of Bethune's childhood home. The plant will primarily produce vaccines for the Chinese market but Microbix has said it may consider exporting some depending on the level of demand domestically.
China currently only has the capacity to vaccinate around 2 per cent of the target population but intends to increase this to 20 per cent, according to Chen Zhaoxiong, vice governor of Hunan. Achieving this goal will be assisted by the new plant and the use of Microbix's propriety technology, Virusmax, if adopted by the plant. The technology increases yield by harvesting the vaccine which is normally discarded after becoming attached to debris in the allantoic fluid of the chick embryo.
Microbix claims the process is inexpensive to implement and does not create a serious regulatory barrier, owing to the non-toxic substances used in the technique.
Widespread adoption of the technique would assist in boosting global vaccine production levels, which the World Health Organisation believes to be too low to cope with a pandemic outbreak.