A medical worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine at Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu. 302 kilometers south of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea said Friday it will strengthen support for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine development so that candidates can enter late-stage phase three clinical trials by the end of the year in a move to bolster its vaccine arsenal against the pandemic.
The country will also step up efforts to develop messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine technology to catch up to global pharmaceutical giants.
The government has so far secured vaccines from multiple global pharmaceutical companies to inoculate nearly double its 51.3 million population, but the government has doubled down on its homegrown vaccine development program to prepare for a drawn-out fight against the pandemic.
South Korea has inoculated around 15 million people, or 30 percent of the country's population, with a single COVID-19 vaccine shot since the vaccine rollout in late February. Of them, 4.4 million, or 8.6 percent of the population, were fully vaccinated as of Thursday.
There are currently five local companies developing multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines.
SK Bioscience Co.'s synthetic antigen-based vaccine is currently in phase I/II clinical trial, a combination of phases I and II, while EuBiologics Co.'s synthetic antigen-based vaccine has also entered a phase I/II trial.
Genexine Inc.'s DNA-based vaccine is in phase I/IIa trial, and Geneone Life Science is in a phase I trial for its DNA-based vaccine.
Cellid's viral vector vaccine is currently in phase I/IIa trial.
South Korea has earmarked 68.7 billion won for support in running vaccine clinical trials this year, larger than the budget of 49 billion won last year, and the government plans to increase the budget if needed.
The government is also focusing on mRNA vaccine development, which is currently in early stages in South Korea.
Global pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna have used the technology in their COVID-19 vaccines, which have shown to be highly effective in fighting the virus.
Local pharmaceutical companies currently have a three-year gap in mRNA technology compared with overseas rivals, according to a government survey on local firms. Around 10 local companies are planning clinical trials for mRNA vaccines. (Yonhap)