SK Bioscience employees are examining virus vaccines at the company’s factory in Andong. Photo courtesy of SK Bioscience

Vaccine developers tap Korean manufacturers for mass production

An increasing number of pharmaceutical companies from across the world are asking Korean contract manufacturers to roll out COVID-19 vaccines here.

A local news outlet recently reported that Russia is trying to produce its third coronavirus vaccine labeled CoviVac here by signing a memorandum of understanding with a Korean entity.

It is not certain whether the report is true. But foreign COVID-19 vaccine developers continued to tap Korea’s contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) for mass production.

For example, SK Bioscience struck a CMO contract with AstraZeneca of the United Kingdom last July. A month later, it signed a similar deal with U.S.-based Novavax.

Under the agreements, the Korean company is currently cranking out vaccines at its only factory in Andong, which lies 270 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

In addition, SK Bioscience is developing its own COVID-19 vaccines, which are under clinical tests with the goal of marketing them next year.

“AstraZeneca and Novavax ask for additional deals, and other bio firms also strive to join hands with us. But our factory is running at full capacity with no room for more contracts,” SK Bioscience CEO Ahn Jae-yong told an online press conference in late February.

Late last year, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) signed an agreement with Korea’s GC Pharma to produce vaccines.

Back then, CEPI said that GC Pharma will churn out at least one of the vaccine candidates in its portfolio. The amount was expected to exceed 500 million doses.

Korea’s Hankook Korus Pharm is producing Russia’s Sputnik V, one of the world’s early approved coronavirus vaccines, in its Chuncheon factory.

“Global vaccine companies are trying to team up with Korean CMOs to produce COVID-19 vaccines for Asian countries. In Asia, just a few nations like Korea and Japan can do so, and that’s why Korean firms are now gaining so many requests,” Korea Investment & Securities analyst Kevin Jin said.

“Things will be similar for the time being because the novel coronavirus will not disappear overnight.”