SK Bioscience researchers at the company's research facility in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province (Yonhap)
The South Korean government is looking for a significant budget cut for COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development programs next year, a lawmaker said Monday.
According to the budget proposal that main opposition People Power Party Rep. Jeon Bong-min acquired from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the government plans to spend 89.3 billion won ($76 million) on support of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment development in 2022, down 32 percent compared to this year.
Rep. Jeon said the support to clinical studies can be further reduced if the government decides not to devise a fiscal stimulus package next year.
In 2021, the South Korean government has set aside a total of 2.3 trillion won of its budget to support ongoing clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine and treatment candidates.
The government first allocated 131.4 billion won to help local pharmaceutical and biotech industries --- 62.7 billion won for COVID-19 treatments and 68.7 billion won for vaccines, respectively.
In July, the ministry announced the addition of 98 billion won, included in a stimulus package, to accelerate development of the homegrown COVID-19 vaccines.
The lawmaker also pointed out that only 14 percent of this year’s budget of 2.3 trillion won has been used so far.
To date, only 5.9 billion won has been spent to support development of COVID-19 vaccines, just 9 percent of the available 1.6 trillion won. For COVID-19 treatments, 27.1 billion won has been executed, some 43 percent of the available 62.7 billion won.
Jeon called for measures to allow more local firms to access the support programs.
In January, March and May, the government allowed companies to submit applications for the government grants, but only two companies, HK inno.N and Quratis, have been newly selected as beneficiaries of the budget.
Other recipients of COVID-19 budget since last year include nine companies. A total of 71 billion won has been spent to support COVID-19 treatment development of four companies, including Celltrion, while other five companies, including SK Bioscience, have received 34 billion won to develop vaccines for the coronavirus.
By Shim Woo-hyun (email@example.com