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By Julie Zhu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese state-owned Sinopharm plans to inject 30 billion yuan ($4.6 billion) in assets into unit Beijing Tiantan Biological Products Corp Ltd to quickly get its fast-growing vaccine business on the public market, two people told Reuters.
Sinopharm aims to begin the injection of six vaccine-focused biological products developers including makers of two COVID-19 vaccines into Shanghai-listed Tiantan in the coming weeks, said the people plus two other people with knowledge of the matter.
The plan comes as China races to develop more homegrown COVID-19 vaccines to challenge Western rivals. President Xi Jinping has pledged China's vaccines for the global public good.
It also comes as Beijing-based Sinopharm works to consolidate its biological units and boost the valuation of subsidiaries on public markets, said the people.
In January, Reuters reported that a Sinopharm-led consortium planned to take private China Traditional Chinese Medicine Holdings Co Ltd as the unit lagged a surge in valuation for many mainland China-listed peers.
Injecting six units into Tiantan could diversify fundraising channels, the people said. The six are either wholly owned or controlled by Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group Co (CNBG). CNBG also owns 50% of Tiantan, which focuses on blood products and had a market capitalisation of $7 billion Thursday.
Sinopharm - formally China National Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd - Tiantan and CNBG did not respond to requests for to comment. The people declined to be identified due to confidentiality constraints.
Asian healthcare deals recorded their strongest-ever growth rate last year at nearly 150% in terms of capital raised. The sector will likely dominate local capital markets again this year due to global COVID-19 vaccination drives, bankers said.
The six units Sinopharm aims to inject into Tiantan develop and manufacture a range of vaccines including two for COVID-19 as well as injectable cosmetic Botox, their websites showed.
One of the two COVID-19 vaccines, developed in Beijing, was the first approved for general public use in China in December, and has since gained emergency use approval in countries such as Iraq and Morocco. The unit can produce 1 billion doses annually.
The second, developed in Wuhan where capacity is 100 million does a year, gained Chinese public use approval in February.
In all, five domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in China.
The other four Sinopharm units in the deal are based in the cities of Shanghai, Lanzhou, Changchun and Chengdu, Sinopharm's website showed.
Sinopharm has said it aims to expand annual COVID-19 vaccine capacity to 3 billion doses, without specifying a time frame.
($1 = 6.5250 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Julie Zhu; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Christopher Cushing)