Asia's search for a Covid-19 vaccine

In laboratories around the region, Asia's best minds have come together in a race to find a vaccine to halt the spread of Covid-19. The common goal has birthed partnerships among some of the world's largest pharmaceutical players, as well as cooperation between nations. The Straits Times correspondents find out how four Asian countries are faring in this crucial effort to end the pandemic.


Singapore: Boosting capacity for fast production


Singapore is building up vaccine manufacturing capacity so production can be ramped up quickly and safely once a Covid-19 vaccine is found.

It will offer fill-and-finish contract manufacturing services to vaccine developers, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at yesterday's virtual Global Vaccine Summit.

Fill-and-finish manufacturing involves contamination-free filling of drugs into containers such as vials or syringes. It plays a critical role in scaling up vaccine production for populations as many biopharmaceutical products are fragile and prone to contamination.


Biomedical manufacturing a bright spot for S'pore


Singapore's investments in biomedical sciences have paid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the biomedical manufacturing sector remaining a bright spot in a sluggish economy.

"The demand for healthcare products has not been affected and is generally quite resilient," said Ms Goh Wan Yee, senior vice-president of healthcare at the Economic Development Board (EDB).

EDB data out last month showed that biomedical manufacturing was the main bright spot in Singapore's factory production for April.


India: 'Pharmacy of the world' in overdrive


India's ability to deliver cost-effective and quality generic drugs, such as those that helped millions living with HIV, earned it the reputation of being the "pharmacy of the world".

This attribute has come into greater salience amid a global quest for potential treatment options and vaccines for Covid-19.

Indian pharmaceutical companies, for instance, quickly ramped up production of hydroxychloroquine in April and are now helping to meet a surging demand for an anti-viral drug believed to aid in the treatment of Covid-19 patients.


Thailand: Tax perks to spur pharma investments


Thailand-based firm Bionet-Asia is racing with other companies and institutes across the world to produce a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus. It has diverted all its resources, including 200 people, to accelerate development of a gene-based vaccine.

"We have already ordered millions of vials even though we don't know yet if the vaccine could work in humans," Bionet chief executive Pham Hong Thai told The Straits Times. In fact, Bionet chose to ship the vials by air rather than sea, despite the flight restrictions around the world.

"No one wants to be in a situation where they have the vaccine working in humans but then discover they are missing the passage containers or stoppers to supply the vaccine," he said. "So there is a race, there is restriction, there is shortage of materials - not only of active ingredients."


Indonesia: Big players and partners join race


Indonesia's major pharmaceutical companies and their foreign partners have joined the race to produce vaccines against the coronavirus that has killed nearly 1,800 people and infected more than 29,000 in the world's fourth-most populous nation.

State-owned Bio Farma, which was founded in 1890 and is the only vaccine maker in the country, is teaming up with Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech to work on a vaccine that will be available in Indonesia early next year.

Dr Neni Nurainy, Bio Farma's research and development project senior integration manager, said the cooperation would quickly make available a vaccine in Indonesia, which is home to around 270 million people. "Bio Farma will source the active pharmaceutical ingredient from Sinovac, then formulate and do the fill-finish part," she told The Straits Times.


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