Top Biopharma CEOs Embark on COVID-Centric China Visit

A dozen top biopharma CEOs have made a historic trip to China led by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, marking the first visit to the country by a G7 leader since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. On hand for the sojourn were BioNTech’s Uğur Şahin, Merck KGaA’s Belén Garijo, and Bayer’s Werner Baumann, among others.

While expected given the investment heavyweights involved, no major deals have come to fruition for the China stopover, although the country is now set to permit foreigners to be vaccinated for COVID-19 via BioNTech’s Comirnaty doses. That vaccine has been available in the special districts of Macau, Taiwan, and Hong Kong for quite some time. During a joint press briefing with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Scholz detailed the new agreement, calling it “a first step” that he hopes will enlarge the “circle of eligible persons,” with the ultimate aim being to offer the BioNTech vaccine to everyone publicly. Industry scuttlebutt had pointed to a broad approval for the shot last July at the latest, but the country is still yet to allow a foreign-made COVID vaccine into its mainland.

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Merck and Bayer, two life sciences powerhouses, each have a solid century of collaboration with China. The former’s Garijo was heading its biopharma segment when the company shelled out heavily for investment in a pharma manufacturing facility near Shanghai in the 2010s. Merck, meanwhile, went all in on its operations in the country amid the pandemic. Its CDMO life sciences offshoot managed a €100 million investment to expand its WuXi production site.