Short items

China’s first human H5N1 vaccine approved 

On 2 April, China’s State Food and Drug Administration approved production of the country’s first human H5N1 vaccine to guard against a possible flu pandemic caused by the deadly virus. Jointly developed by Beijing Sinovac and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), the vaccine was approved after two phases of clinical trials with 402 participants showed it was safe and able to elicit an immune response. 

Without a real outbreak of the virus, the vaccine cannot enter Phase III clinical trials and so will be stockpiled and not used for vaccination. While a pandemic could be caused by a different strain of the virus, Dong Xiaoping, a China CDC researcher and the vaccine project’s chief scientist, says the approval allows the vaccine to be modified - and used - without the need for further clinical trials. US and European drug regulators have given similar approvals to human H5N1 vaccines developed by pharmaceutical firms Sanofi-aventis, GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis. 

Sinopec to build giant ethylene plant 

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has approved oil firm Sinopec’s plans to build a million-tonne ethylene plant in the island province of Hainan in southern China. 

The company has not revealed the exact sum it will invest in the project, but said it could be billions of dollars. 

Preparatory work on the project is underway and construction is set to start before 2010. The plant will be built in Hainan’s Yangpu Industrial Park next to Sinopec’s refinery, which produces 80 million tonnes of refined oil per year. 

Meanwhile on 6 April, Sinopec published its 2007 annual report, which reveals the firm’s net profits increased 5.5 per cent on last year to 54.9 billion yuan (US$7.8 billion). Sinopec’s refinery sector, however, reported a loss of 13.6 billion yuan (US$1.9 billion) because the price of refined oil, which is controlled by the Chinese government, has not risen despite a surge in the price of crude oil. 

Mitsubishi Chemical to produce BPA in China 

Mitsubishi Chemical, Japan’s largest chemical company, has announced plans for a joint venture with its subsidiary Mitsubishi Engineering-Plastics and Sinopec in Beijing to produce bisphenol A (BPA) and polycarbonates. The plans were submitted to China’s National Development and Reform Commission for approval on 8 April. With an expected investment of US$300 million, the joint venture is expected to produce 60 000 tonnes of PC and 150 000 tonnes of BPA annually upon completion in 2010. The two Mitsubishi companies will own 50 per cent of shares with the remainder going to Sinopec.  

BPA is a key monomer for the production of one type of polycarbonate - plastics used to make everything from car parts and electrical appliances and to food containers, CDs and DVDs. Mitsubishi Chemical predicts that global demand for polycarbonates will keep growing at an annual rate of 7 per cent while in China demand will grow more than 10 per cent every year.