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Tests of COVID-19 treatments in Korea gain speed

GC Pharma announces plan for clinical test, Celltrion aims to manufacture drugs from September

Celltrion's COVID-19 antibody treatment candidate CT-P59 (Celltrion)
Celltrion's COVID-19 antibody treatment candidate CT-P59 (Celltrion)
Research for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines in Korea has been picking up speed, with GC Pharma announcing Monday it preemptively began producing plasma-derived COVID-19 treatment drug samples on Friday.

GC Pharma plans to apply to the Drug Ministry with the clinical phase 2 test designs of its plasma-derived COVID-19 treatment by the end of this month.

If approved, it will join 13 clinical trials in varying stages that are underway in Korea. Of them, 11 are for treatments and two are for vaccines.

GC Pharma’s venture is expected to accelerate rapidly as it is collaborating with the Korea National Institute of Health. GC Pharma has promised to distribute its treatments for free to COVID-19 patients in Korea.

Also on Monday, Celltrion Chairman Seo Jung-jin held an online press event in Seoul going over the firm’s research progress and urging unity among the industry and government.

Celltrion’s phase 1 clinical trial of its novel antibody therapy was approved by authorities on Friday. Seo said the firm plans to start human trials from this month.

Should phase 2 tests yield meaningful results, Seo said the firm will push to begin producing the treatment from September with an aim to distribute them “in the shortest time possible.” Seo said he expects to commercialize the treatment within the first half of next year.

“Korea has proven time and again its independent capabilities of pandemic containment, and the ongoing efforts of domestic pharmas to introduce a COVID-19 treatment and vaccine show that the country has ample resources to fend for itself in a virus crisis,” Seo said.

Collaboration between the industry and government is more important than ever, because “COVID-19 research equals pharmaceutical sovereignty,” he added.

GC Pharma's plasma-derived COVID-19 treatment candidate (GC Pharma)
GC Pharma's plasma-derived COVID-19 treatment candidate (GC Pharma)

In the month of July alone, the Drug Ministry has so far approved three human drug tests for potential COVID-19 treatments, allowing local companies CrystalGenomics, Daewoong Pharmaceutical and Celltrion to pursue clinical trials of their COVID-19 treatment pipelines on people.

CrystalGenomics and Daewoong Pharmaceutical are both in phase 2 clinical trials of camostat, an already approved drug for pancreatic disease that is being repurposed as a COVID-19 drug. Celltrion is in a phase 1 clinical trial of CT-P59, an antibody treatment that the company is pursuing as a novel therapy.

The three companies join the existing list of Gilead Sciences Korea, Bukwang Pharmaceutical, Enzychem Lifescience, Shin Poong Pharm and Chong Kun Dang.

The other researching institutions include academic institutes and major university hospitals.

In total since March, the Drug Ministry has permitted 18 clinical tests to prove drug efficacy for COVID-19 patients.

Five have halted since, including studies of remdesivir, which has now been successfully designated as the only globally acknowledged COVID-19 countermeasure so far, and hydroxychloriquine, which failed to treat COVID-19 patients.

The International Vaccine Institute and Genexine are the two researching and testing vaccines.

The government has set aside a supplementary budget to fully reimburse costs of all approved COVID-19 treatment and vaccine clinical trials.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (