What policy does Korea need to achieve vaccine hub ambition?


What should Korea do to become a global vaccine manufacturing hub?

Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing was the key issue in the recent summit between Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden and the G7 summit in the U.K.

To discuss how to nurture the Korean vaccine industry, healthcare industry officials, scholars, researchers, and government officials gathered in Seoul.

The 9th Healthcare Future Forum, held at Marina Convention Center in Yeouido, Seoul, Wednesday, was themed on “strategies to make Korea a global vaccine hub.”

The event was hosted by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Democratic Party’s Vaccine Treatment Special Committee, and organized by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI).

Professor Kang Dae-hee of preventive medicine at the Seoul National University College of Medicine criticized the government for not allocating sufficient budget to the bio-health sector.

“Of the 27.4 trillion won ($24.2 billion) national R&D budget in 2021, only 1.75 trillion won is invested in the bio-health sector. They’ve been saying the sector is important repeatedly but the proportion of R&D going into the bio-health industry has not changed much,” he said.

To become an international vaccine hub, the government needs to support the industry, set up new related agencies, revise institutional systems, and promote global communication, Kang said.

Regarding the government's financial support for healthcare companies, Kang said it was meaningless to invest a small amount of money for a long term.

“The government has to invest a lot of money in a short time aggressively. That way, companies can face honest failure,” he said.

Oh Dong-wook, chairman of the Korean Research-based Pharma Industry Association (KRPIA), who is country manager of Pfizer Korea, spoke on changes in the global value chain of the bio-health industry.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to more open innovation, deregulation, and spread of partnership culture, Oh noted.

“Because of Covid-19, people reached a social consensus that the healthcare industry not only affects people’s health but society as a whole,” he said.

To become globally competitive, the Korean bio-health industry needs a creation of an “innovative ecosystem,” innovative growth, and cooperation in a virtuous cycle, he added.

In a policy debate, experts discussed “changes in the global value chain and response measures.”

The debate was chaired by Seong Baik-lin, director general of the Vaccine Innovative Technology Alliance Korea (VITAL-Korea), who is a professor at Yonsei University.

Officials from the Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA), KRPIA, Korea Drug Development Fund (KDDF), Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), and healthcare professionals joined the debate.

Experts emphasized that vaccine development technologies against infectious diseases including Covid-19 are crucial to reinforce national competitiveness.

Myongji Hospital Chairman Lee Wang-jun, one of the panelists at the debate, said Covid-19 vaccines have become a political issue.

“As we could see in the Korea-U.S. summit and the G7 summit, vaccines are regarded as a strategic weapon,” Lee said.

The government plans to make Korea a global vaccine hub by helping Korean products and companies enter the global vaccine value chain, he went on to say.

“We need to think about what role Korea can play as a leading Asian nation (in vaccine manufacturing),” he said.

Also, the nation needs a practical approach to gather forces of business, academia, and research in the Covid-19 pandemic situation, Lee said.

“While strengthening the infrastructure, it is necessary to explore the development of various vaccine platforms such as DNA vaccines in addition to mRNA vaccines,” he added.

KDDF CEO Muk Hyun-sang stressed the need for large-scale investment by the private sector to develop innovative medicines including Covid-19 vaccines.

“Five companies are developing a Covid-19 vaccine in Korea. But due to limited government budget, only one company can receive KDDF’s support for a phase-3 trial,” Muk said.

He said the government cannot support companies in the private sector forever, and the government budget should be just a starting point to raise a private fund.

“Private funds reduce the burden on the government, generate revenue for private investors, and allow drugmakers to focus on their jobs,” Muk said.

“It is most desirable for the private sector and the government to work together.”

Eom Seung-in, head of the policy affairs division at KPBMA, mentioned the strength and weakness of the domestic vaccine industry.

The local vaccine industry is so small-sized that its total revenue is only about 200 billion won, he noted. In addition, the seriously low birth rate in Korea has pushed down the number of children subject to vaccination, he said.

“This is an environment where the local market cannot grow. Other factors hindering the vaccine industry’s growth are insufficient manpower, high labor costs, and rising production costs,” Eom said.

In contrast, positive factors for the industry include many vaccine manufacturing facilities compared to the small population and local companies’ rich experience in export, he went on to say.

Delivering the industry’s message, Eom said the government should keep signaling that it would continue to support the vaccine market even after Covid-19 ends to promote corporate R&D.

Lim Chong-yoon, chairman of the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization, who is also CEO of Hanmi Science, said the goal of a homegrown mRNA vaccine development should be making a “best-in-class” vaccine, not a “first-in-class” one.

Korea BIO has over 400 members and there are many firms with the potential to do R&D for a mRNA vaccine, Lim noted.

“We have to take full advantage of this situation and jump into a business we can do right now,” he said.

In this sense, Korean companies could aim to get the license for generic copies of mRNA vaccines by Moderna or Pfizer, Lim said.

“We will have to get technology transferred but at least two local companies will be able to take the full procedure of manufacturing,” he said.

If Korean companies pay to use the intellectual property right of Pfizer or Moderna, or if the U.S. waives IP protection for Covid-19 vaccines, local companies could join forces to make generic vaccines in the shortest time, Lim said.

“We will be able to produce 50 million to 100 million doses of vaccines within this year,” he said.

Quoting remarks of Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, Lim said money required for the COVAX program to distribute Covid-19 vaccines worldwide is less than 1 percent of the global defense expenditure.

“The human race will be willing to give that 1 percent to save lives,” he added, emphasizing people’s social responsibility.

출처: Korea Biomedical Review

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