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Biotech firms could expand partnerships with US vaccine makers: reports

A healthcare worker holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. (Reuters-Yonhap)
A healthcare worker holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine. (Reuters-Yonhap)

South Korean biotech and pharmaceutical companies could expand their partnerships with COVID-19 vaccine providers in the US, as an upcoming bilateral summit between leaders of the two countries could serve as a meeting ground, according to local news reports on Thursday.

The reports said executive members of Samsung Group and SK Group could meet with Moderna and Novavax to discuss potential contract manufacturing deals, when they visit the US as part of a large-scale delegate that would join President Moon Jae-in’s trip to the US.

A high-ranking South Korean government official said on Wednesday that leaders of the two countries would discuss a potential vaccine partnership when they meet in person at the White House on May 21, to discuss issues, including North Korea’s denuclearization and economic cooperation.

“One of the main agenda items is vaccine partnership between the two countries,” Lee Ho-seung, Moon’s chief of staff for policy, said during a radio interview.

Lee noted that South Korea, which has the world’s No. 2 biological manufacturing capability, could potentially work with US-based COVID-19 vaccine producers and step up as a global hub for vaccine production with partnerships.

There have been speculations that Samsung BioLogics, the world’s leading contract development and manufacturing organization, was reportedly in talks with Moderna for a contract manufacturing deal. SK Group’s vaccine business subsidiary SK Bioscience could also expand their collaboration and license agreement for manufacturing Novavax’s vaccine, according to industry sources.

Other local companies that have contract manufacturing facilities eligible for COVID-19 vaccines include Hanmi Pharmaceutical and GC Pharma. GC Pharma is in charge of domestic distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government has expedited efforts in bringing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine into the country.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced Thursday that the second of three expert panels here gave its recommendation for the government to approve the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine based on the safety and efficacy data from the company’s clinical trial in the US.

The ministry is expected to give the final approval to the Moderna vaccine as early as Friday next week, when the last expert panel holds its review session.

If approved, Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine will become the fourth vaccine to be introduced here, following those produced by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

The government on Wednesday also carried out a mock drill for the planned transport of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines, which require strict cold-chain management systems for storage and transportation.

By Shim Woo-hyun (