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South Korean firms to forge vaccine alliance in anticipation of patent waiver

A health care worker prepares a vaccine dose for inoculation. (Yonhap)
A health care worker prepares a vaccine dose for inoculation. (Yonhap)

A group of South Korean biopharmaceutical companies are in talks to forge a consortium for co-production of COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of a patent waiver, industry sources said Tuesday.

According to the bio industry insiders who declined to be named, the talks involve about 10 local firms including Hanmi Pharmaceutical, Genexine, GC Pharma, GeneOne Life Science, ST Pharm, as well as Seoul National University, Pohang University of Science and Technology and Myongji Medical Foundation. The sources could not disclose the exact number of firms involved.

“The idea is to combine the strength and capacity of all possible players to build a pan-industry system that can produce the maximum doses for the global consumption,” one of the sources explained.

The move comes as the world debates waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines amid a prolonged pandemic. US President Joe Biden recently proclaimed Washington’s support for the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights, in what Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, called a “monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19.” The US is home to Pfizer and Moderna, which have developed the new breed of mRNA vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

Should the patents be waived on the US-developed vaccines, South Korea is well positioned to become a global production hub for the jabs, given its vaccine production capacity which ranks only after India in the world, the officials said.

In South Korea, the National Institute of Health would lead the consortium for the mRNA vaccine production.

“The government here appears to have adopted the vaccine development model that the US government took with Moderna,” said an industry source familiar with the matter.

The consortium has recently asked the government for a large-sized investment for the development of mRNA vaccines. The size of the investment was not divulged.

President Moon Jae-in has recently hinted that the government could make an unprecedented investment for the development of COVID-19 vaccines during a Cabinet meeting, the source said.

Meanwhile, Moon is expected to push for a vaccine partnership deal with the US during his first summit with Biden later this week. How the two countries would cooperate has not yet been determined. Seoul officials earlier suggested what it called a “vaccine swap agreement,“ a loan deal to ease a temporary shortage of jabs here.

By Shim Woo-hyun (