The Shanghai headquarters of Fosun International. Picture: REUTERS
The Shanghai headquarters of Fosun International. Picture: REUTERS

Hong Kong — The billionaire founder of Fosun Group expects to soon win approvals for testing a vaccine against the new coronavirus in his home country of China, a day after President Xi Jinping promised to make any protective vaccine universally available.

“Developing a vaccine is no longer just a matter of fighting the virus,” Guo Guangchang said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The sooner there’s a vaccine, the more confident people will be and the faster the economy will recover.”

A vaccine is considered a crucial step towards lifting social-distancing measures and safely reopening economies, schools and events around the globe. The scramble to test and bring one to market quickly has intensified amid growing concern that countries will put national interests first in the quest for a protective shot.

China’s Xi made the pledge of universal access as part of an effort to deflect criticism of his government’s response to the contagion that has killed more than 320,000 worldwide.

While a working vaccine is the best hope against the deadly pathogen, an effective and safe immunity shot typically takes years to develop. Many diseases, such as HIV, still don’t have one. Among the dozens of vaccine projects underway worldwide, China has five candidates already in human trials. More will enter such tests next month.

In March, Guo’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group teamed up with German partner BioNTech, which has already been conducting human clinical trials of the vaccine in Germany. Early stage results should be available soon, the tycoon said.

Massachusetts-based Moderna said on Monday that its experimental RNA vaccine showed promise, sending the S&P 500 index 3.2% higher.

Guo declined to elaborate on when Fosun Pharmaceutical will obtain all the required approvals. “I don’t ask about other matters in the group every day, but I ask about the vaccine every day,” said Guo, who heads Fosun’s sprawling empire spanning healthcare, retail, finance and tourism. “I care about this a lot.”

The group has also been working with overseas partners in trying to find an effective medicine against the coronavirus, but so far it hasn’t found any, Guo said. “Maybe the key solution to the problem is not in medicine, but still in a vaccine.”