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Celltrion chief says coronavirus vaccine to be marketable by H1 next year

An exterior view of Celltrion headquarters in Songdo, Incheon. (Celltrion)
An exterior view of Celltrion headquarters in Songdo, Incheon. (Celltrion)
Celltrion co-founder and Chairman Seo Jung-jin said Tuesday the biosimilar firm’s novel coronavirus vaccine development is on its way as scheduled, expressing confidence that the treatment will become marketable once clinical trials are complete.

As one of some 200 drug developers in the world in the race to develop a treatment for COVID-19, Celltrion is poised to go through a human clinical trial with its drug candidate on July 16, following tests on lab animals such as hamsters and monkeys, Seo told an audience at NextRise 2020, a technology forum for startups and venture capitalists, held at COEX, Seoul by the state-run Korea Development Bank and the Korea International Trade Association.

Celltrion is known to have been developing neutralizing antibodies to combine with a spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus to prevent the viral entry.

Once the trial proceeds as planned, the human clinical trial is expected to wrap up by end-2020, with the firm to subsequently garner state approval for drug sales by the first quarter of 2021, he added. Its production capacity is able to address 5 million patients at home and abroad by the first half of 2021.

“We will have the answer by the first half of next year,” said Seo, who has announced plans to retire by the year-end.

The timetable comes in line with Seo’s earlier pledge to launch human trials for the treatment in July.

Along with the coronavirus treatment, Seo said Celltrion has begun partnering with National Institute for Health Research of the United Kingdom and University of Oxford to develop a treatment for the acute systemic inflammatory syndrome called cytokine release syndrome, associated with the entry of the virus in human body.

Following the session, Seo told press that Celltrion’s three-way merger plan with drug distributor Celltrion Healthcare and generic arm Celltrion Pharm will materialize by the end of September.

The tech forum, the second of its kind in Korea, is designed to connect startups with large corporates and venture investors. The event comprised of physical one-on-one meetups, lectures and teleconferences.

Speakers of the first day included Seo of Celltrion; Lee Jay-hyun, managing director of principal investment area at Goldman Sachs Asia; Arif Janmohamed, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and Yigal Erlich, founder of Yozma Group.

Lee of Goldman Sachs Asia told startup entrepreneurs that being transparent with their potential reputational, compliance, legal and regulatory risks is important yet challenging, while the investors‘ job is to “underwrite the risks.” As a growth capital investor, Goldman Sachs Asia has a track record of later-stage funding to startups such as food delivery unicorn Woowa Brothers and real estate listing platform operator Zigbang.

By Son Ji-hyoung (