Chinese production of Merck and Co. Inc.'s genetically engineeredhepatitis B vaccine, Recombivax HB, is scheduled to begin soon underan agreement signed in 1989.As part of the arrangement with Shenzhen Kangtai Biological ProductsCo. Ltd., Merck agreed to transfer its expertise in making the vaccineto China through an intensive training program. The WhitehouseStation, Pa. company also agreed to receive no royalties on the sales ofthe drug in China, recovering only the costs involved in the technologytransfer.Seventeen Chinese technical experts were sent to the U.S. to gainquality control and production know-how. They were trained toassemble the equipment to produce the vaccine, then dismantled it forshipment to China, where facilities are being established in Beijing andShenzhen. Production will begin when Chinese authorities grant thenecessary licenses, according to Gary Lachow, Merck's manager ofconsumer communications.The two plants will enable China to make enough vaccine to inoculate40 million children a year against hepatitis B.Lachow said Merck agreed to make the vaccine available on a break-even basis because of the extent of the hepatitis B epidemic in China,where he said it affects 150 million people. He said China would nothave had the funds to acquire the vaccine on the scale necessarywithout this assistance. According to Lachow, Merck provides its drugMectizan for the treatment of river blindness to governments in Africaand South America on the same basis. _ Philippa Maister
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