SEOUL - South Korean President Moon Jae-in has pledged to provide all available support to develop home-grown vaccines for Covid-19, even throwing in a 2.2 trillion won (S$2.6 billion) investment package to help local drugmakers.
"We will strive to take a leap forward to become one of the top five global vaccine producers by 2025," he said this month, adding that vaccines will also become one of South Korea's three national strategic technologies, alongside semiconductors and batteries.
Experts say South Korea, which boasts one of the world's largest production capabilities for biopharmaceutical products and exported US$5.1 billion (S$7 billion) worth of such goods last year, is well placed to become a major force in the global vaccine industry.
Dr Jerome Kim, director general of the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute, said: "Speed, scale, quality and a well-recognised regulatory authority should work in South Korea's favour."
There are seven local firms conducting clinical trials in various stages for four types of Covid-19 vaccines.
SK Bioscience is the first to win approval to begin phase three trials on its protein antigen vaccine GBP510. The firm intends to enter the final stage of testing early next year and launch the vaccine by mid-next year.
South Korea's Health Ministry has said it will roll out home-grown vaccines for public use next year.
But Dr Kim noted that most South Koreans would be fully vaccinated by then. As at Thursday (Aug 19), 47.3 per cent of the population have received their first shot of Covid-19 vaccines. About 21 per cent are fully vaccinated.
"For that reason, the GBP510 vaccine may be a booster or could be used in particular age groups where other vaccines might be considered riskier or are considered lower priority for vaccination - infants and toddlers, for example," he said.