A step closer to vaccine sovereignty

2022. 7. 4. 20:06
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South Korea now has its own vaccine against Covid-19. SKYCovione developed by SK bioscience was approved by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, paving the way for self-sufficiency in vaccines against the coronavirus.

Seong Baik-linThe author is a professor of biotechnology at Yonsei University College of Medicine and head of the Vaccine Innovation Technology Alliance Korea.

South Korea now has its own vaccine against Covid-19. SKYCovione developed by SK bioscience was approved by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, paving the way for self-sufficiency in vaccines against the coronavirus that has demoralized the world for more than two years. It also enhances Korea’s global leadership in containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

The evolution of Covid-19 has called for a radical change in vaccine development and production. Vaccines must be provided faster than the spread of the virus. The rationale completely upsets the traditional vaccine development method. Vaccines have been investigated and developed for more than 10 years to ensure safety and efficiency. But now, speed has become more urgent.

Inoculations by the viral vector vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford in late 2020 and messenger RNA vaccines of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were administered in early 2021 without precedent cases and safety assurance.

The latest development by SK bioscience together with University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine is made of recombinant protein nanoparticle that has been proven effective and safe for employment in various vaccines over the last 20 to 30 years. After the consignment manufacturing of Novavax vaccine, SK bioscience has become the second to have commercialized a vaccine based on harmless S proteins to simulate immune system and fight virus.

Regardless of the feat, we should coolly assess whether Covid-19 jabs are necessary when the virus spread has become less threatening. Through multiple jabs and natural infection, more than 90 percent of South Koreans have formed immunity against Covid.19. But even with herd immunity against the Wuhan virus, additional inoculation was proven to have sharply raised defense against mutants like the Omicron variant.

Samples of SKYCovione, a domestically-developed Covid-19 vaccine from SK bioscience. After the consignment manufacturing of Novavax vaccine, the bio company has become world’s second to commercialize a vaccine based on a synthetic antigen. [SK bioscience]

There is also the question whether the latest vaccine is entirely domestically developed. The synthetic antigen-based vaccine had been explored by the Institute of Protein Design of UW and funded by the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI). The Korean company helped commercialize it. SK bioscience’s vaccine manufacturing capacity had been reputable before the pandemic. Technology transfer was possible through joint efforts by the government and enterprises during emergency times.

How helpful will vaccine self-sufficiency be against next pandemic? The Covid-19 that has killed more than 6 million around the world may just be the beginning. The coronavirus family also includes the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that broke out in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015. More could sprout from the notorious viral group. The world has embarked on a pan-coronavirus vaccine. The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017 identified 10 highly infectious viruses and encouraged vaccine development. The recent Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing could be expanded to fight future viruses, but due to the complexity in the process, quick response can be difficult. When the synthetic antigen method that is quicker to produce joins the pipeline, Korea can wield global influence through a speedier and effective vaccine.

Korea’s competitiveness in a battle against the virus has been recognized as the WTO decided to establish a global biomanufacturing training hub in Korea. It has been the second biggest diplomatic feat since the country hosted the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), a UN body, in 1997. Korea has been enhancing biomanufacturing facilities in compliance with the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), a system for ensuring that products are consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. The facilities of Samsung Biologics and Celltrion have some of the world’s largest capacities. If Korea adds novel vaccine development, it can command the full cycle from development to clinical trials and production. The latest vaccine development will set the ground for Korean leadership in responding to global infectious diseases. Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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