I am glad to meet you all. We are gathered here at SK Bioscience, one of the companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine, to hold a discussion with representatives from business and medical fields as well as relevant experts and researchers. I am grateful to you all for joining us despite your busy schedules.
Developing vaccines and treatments is a mountain we must go over in order to conquer COVID-19. Not only our people but everyone around the world is desperately awaiting the development of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The good news is that Korea, amid fierce competition among global businesses, is also making considerable progress in that area. Over the past nine months, the Government and the private sector, including businesses, hospitals, universities and research institutes, have mobilized all of their capabilities. During the same period, researchers at our businesses have remained engrossed in research and development day and night. Moreover, our people have donated their blood plasma and participated in clinical trials. The Government has opened its biosafety laboratories and other public research and development facilities to the private sector. We have also put in place extraordinary measures to fund development and speed up procedures throughout the cycle from development to licensing or authorization. We have also actively supported relevant businesses by forming a pan-government support group to facilitate the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
In addition, we have exerted all-out efforts to secure vaccines from abroad. Along with purchasing vaccines collectively through COVAX, formally known as the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, we have continued consultations with leading global vaccine manufacturers. If the development process proceeds seamlessly as a result, we can expect to begin production of drugs to treat COVID-19 in earnest within this year and complete the development of vaccines by next year. A plan to first procure 30 million vaccine doses to cover about 60 percent of the Korean population is also well underway.
Today, as I look around the vaccine development facilities here, I have become filled with emotion and a sense of confidence about our technological expertise. SK Bioscience is developing a synthetic antigen vaccine that is safe and highly effective. The company is scheduled to launch clinical trials of the vaccine starting this month.
The international community recognizes the technological prowess of SK Bioscience, as evidenced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding development here. Equipped with high-tech facilities and excellent production capabilities, the company is also discussing consigned production with such global vaccine producers as AstraZeneca and Novavax. If it becomes possible to first supply our people with some portion of the produced vaccines, it will greatly facilitate the securing of stable supplies of vaccines. Genexine and GeneOne Life Science are also speeding up development of DNA vaccines and embarking on clinical and nonclinical tests.
Rapid progress is also being seen in the development of treatments. Nineteen clinical trials are underway through drug repositioning to identify treatments that are effective against COVID-19 among previously authorized drugs. Celltrion has developed a COVID-19 antibody treatment and is simultaneously conducting final Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials. We are also looking forward to GC Pharma’s plasma therapy becoming available to treat patients within this year as it is now in Phase 2 of clinical trials.
However, there are many challenges we have to surmount going forward to develop globally recognized vaccines and treatments. Since vaccines and treatments are directly linked to people’s lives, unassailable safety must be ensured. I hope you will always do all you can with the aim of developing safe and highly effective products. We also need to further enhance our capabilities to develop treatments and vaccines for other infectious diseases that are likely to appear after COVID-19. I ask businesses, research institutes, hospitals and universities to pull together until solutions are found.
The Government will keep providing as much support as possible “until the end when success is assured.” When it comes to developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, we are determined to succeed on our own eventually even if other countries succeed with production ahead of us and imports become possible. It is necessary at all cost to not only accumulate development experience but also to reduce supply prices as we had experienced with the H1N1 virus. Since it takes a colossal amount of time and money to develop vaccines and treatments, companies have been burdened with tremendous risk due to the high chance of failure. The Government provided 210 billion won this year for clinical trials and development. We have allocated 260 billion won in next year’s budget, a 19 percent increase from this year.
We will connect three regional center hospitals and 17 other hospitals nationwide to run a national clinical trial center for infectious diseases. Doing so will enable active support for clinical trials, for instance, by recruiting trial participants, and we will assist overseas clinical trials at pan-government levels. We will expand the national research institute for infectious diseases, the public vaccine development and support center, the institute for basic virus research, the vaccine demonstration support center and other public infrastructure in order to assist the development and production of vaccines and treatments.
I hope that we will succeed in developing vaccines and treatments as soon as possible to completely overcome COVID-19. I believe that – just as with Korea’s response to the pandemic – Korea’s biohealth industry will bring us hope and pride once more. The Government will stand with you until we succeed.