Heroes on the Frontline against Virus: “Vaccine Research is a Race against Time” —An exclusive interview with Yang Xiaoming, Chairman of CNBG
link : https://wap.peopleapp.com/article/5996952/5913251
All people around the world are eagerly anticipating the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.
China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a subsidiary of Sinopharm, has achieved remarkable success: it has built a coronavirus vaccine manufacturing workshop, and the vaccines it developed have been included in the list of vaccines for emergency use.
Moreover, since the outbreak of the epidemic, CNBG has raced against the virus to save lives. Its technical team developed a coronavirus gene detection kit within 48 hours, which was put onto the list of the first recommended kits by the National Health Commission of China.
Those outcomes are inseparable from Yang Xiaoming, chief scientist of the 863 Program under the Ministry of Science and Technology and chairman of CNBG. Recently, Yang was cited as a national role model in the fight against COVID-19.
“While medical workers risked their lives to fight the virus on the frontline, we also needed to work wholeheartedly in the rear.”
On September 8, after returning from the national commendation meeting for role models in the fight against COVID-19 and eating a boxed lunch, Yang immediately devoted himself to work. “I’ve gotten used of this kind of life after eating takeouts for eight months.”
Yang often had no time to eat and sleep, but immersed himself to epidemic prevention and control. “This is a war against the virus,” he illustrated. “Scientists are also ‘soldiers’ in the war, and laboratories are our battlefields. We also need to charge with great courage.”
Shortly after the outbreak of the epidemic, Yang sent a team to carry out virus detection. After comparing with known pathogens, they finally figured out that this virus is a totally new pathogen.
“The new virus may cause many uncertainties, and we must work out a comprehensive response plan as quickly as possible.” Yang has been engaged in epidemic research for more than two decades. Based on his rich expertise, Yang led his team to set up an emergency command headquarters to develop detection kits and vaccines.
“How about the sifting of raw materials? What is the starting quantity? How about the virus concentration test? What have we reached in the research of detection kit reaction system and enzymatic synthesis?” Detection kit researchers received a call from Yang almost every one or two hours to inquire their progress.
“Back then, we were facing extremely urgent situations,” recalled Yang. “My cell phone rang all the day, and I had to recharge it three or four times a day to ensure I didn’t miss any incoming calls. I needed to know the latest progress in real time and get ready to solve problems that might arise anytime.”
Due to high stress and insufficient rest, Yang suffered from hypertension and needed to take medicine to control blood pressure. “While medical workers risked their lives to fight the virus on the frontline, we also needed to work wholeheartedly in the rear,” he said.
Thanks to their tireless efforts, CNBG successfully developed a coronavirus detection kit within 48 hours.
“His fighting spirit motivated all of us”
After completing the research of the detection kit, Yang and his team immediately devoted themselves to vaccine development and production. But, which roadmap could lead to safe and quick outcomes?
Those days, Yang put his whole heart into vaccine development. After discussions, CNBG decided to implement several research plans at the same time, with the focus on inactivated vaccines.
“We adopted multiple roadmaps because we knew little about the virus in the beginning, so we had to take a holistic approach,” explained Yang. “We focused on the research of inactivated vaccines because this research technology and production platform are relatively mature and have clear quality control points and evaluation methods, which is easy to dock with mass production.”
Vaccine development is a race against time. CNBG entrusted its Beijing and Wuhan institutes to respectively carry out research of inactivated vaccines. This means doubling the cost. “Separated research allows us to conduct comparison of results, so as to ensure the safety and reliability of finished vaccines. Furthermore, internal competition is conducive to enhancing research speed and efficiency.”
Establishing the virus seed bank, working out sifting and purifying methods… While pushing forward vaccine research step by step, Yang and his colleagues also needed to coordinate policies and resources to accelerate the research process.
No matter how many challenges he faced and how exhausted he was, Yang became passionate and energetic as soon as he entered the laboratories. “His fighting spirit motivated all of us, inspiring us to move forward despite huge difficulties,” his colleague Wang Zejun said.
“It’s my unshirkable duty to test the vaccine with my body at this critical moment”
As soon as the vaccine was approved for clinical trials, Yang volunteered to be the first to be inoculated. “I’m the key researcher and a Party member,” he said. “It’s
my unshirkable duty to test the vaccine with my body at this critical moment.”
Results of the phase-I/II showed that no one receiving vaccinations had severe adverse reactions.
“Without enough quantity to be produced, no vaccine can form an immune shelter for people. We must achieve mass production of coronavirus vaccines,” Yang noted. Under the support from Sinopharm, CNBG’s Beijing and Wuhan institutes completed construction of workshops to produce inactivated coronavirus vaccines.
The two institutes introduced a “wartime mechanism” in the construction of production workshops. The Beijing institute took only 60 days to complete construction on April 15. On July 1, the coronavirus vaccine laboratory and workshop complex of CNBG’s Wuhan institute was completed.
Under the leadership of Yang, CNBG made great contributions to the fight against COVID-19, demonstrating its great sense of responsibility as a state-owned enterprise. “We’ll do all we can to complete the last mile in the development of coronavirus vaccines, stay true to our original aspiration, take on our responsibilities with concrete actions, and forge a strong shield for human health,” declared Yang.