Exclusive: South Korea in talks with mRNA vaccine makers to produce up to 1 billion doses – government official
By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is in talks with mRNA vaccine manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, to produce COVID-19 injections in the country and is ready to offer the capacity to manufacture up to 1 billion doses immediately, a senior government official said.
The plan, if accepted, would help ease the tight global supply of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in Asia, which lags North America and Europe in vaccine deployment, and bring South Korea closer to its ambition to become a major vaccine manufacturing center.
South Korea has already made deals to locally produce three coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca / Oxford University, Novavax and Russia. It also has a vaccine bottling and packaging agreement with Moderna.
“We have had frequent discussions with large pharmaceutical companies to produce mRNA vaccines,” Lee Kang-ho, director general of the world vaccine committee under South Korea’s health ministry, told Reuters.
“There are only a few mRNA vaccine developers – Pfizer, Moderna, CureVac and BioNTech. So there is a limit to what they can produce to meet global demand… South Korea is keen to help by offering its facilities and skilled human resources, ”said Lee.
It is not immediately clear how advanced these talks are and if and when a deal will be reached.
BioNTech declined to comment, Moderna and CureVac did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
A spokesperson for Pfizer said the company was making efforts to improve its COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, but added “we have nothing specific to announce at this time.”
Lee declined to name local vaccine makers who have the capacity to immediately produce mRNA vaccines, but a government source said they included Hanmi Pharmaceuticals Co Ltd and Quratis Co Ltd.
Hanmi has confirmed that it has a large capacity reserved for Sanofi’s diabetes drug and that it can be used for the production of COVID-19 vaccines while the Sanofi project is at a standstill.
Quratis, which makes a tuberculosis vaccine, said its new factory built last year can now be used for the production of mRNA vaccines.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Michael Erman in New York and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Raju Gopalakrishnan)