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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 13)

All News 07:08 April 13, 2020

Developing vaccines
Korea can take lead in finding COVID-19 cures

South Korea has joined the global race to develop medicine and vaccines for the new coronavirus. President Moon Jae-in, while meeting bio firm executives and researchers at Institut Pasteur Korea in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday, announced a set of government support plans for the development of the COVID-19 cures.

Most notably, Moon said the government will inject 210 billion won (US$172 million) to support vaccine development projects undertaken by private companies and set up an institute that will study various novel viruses.

It is good to see the government moving fast to support the development of COVID-19 treatments. Even though developing vaccines and medicines for a new disease takes years in normal circumstances, expanding financial support for the pharmaceutical industry will help shorten the period of clinical trials for potential treatments. What is more essential is to suspend regulations for the development of new vaccines so that companies can complete testing of experimental treatments in humans as quickly as possible and mass-produce the final product.

As South Korea's testing kits have become a global model, the country can take the lead in developing the cures for COVID-19. In this regard, the fact that U.S. billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates has approached South Korea for cooperation on the development of treatments for the new coronavirus has a very symbolic meaning. Cheong Wa Dae said Friday Moon had a 25-minute telephone conversation with Gates at the latter's request, in which they agreed to strengthen cooperation to develop treatments for COVID-19.

The Microsoft co-founder, who is leading the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has called for global cooperation to overcome the pandemic from the early stages of the outbreak. The foundation has provided support to the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI), an international agency dedicated to vaccine research and development, and co-invested in Right Fund, a nongovernmental agency that was set up in 2018, together with the South Korean health ministry and five Korean biopharmaceutical firms, to help developing countries resolve public health problems. Gates lauded South Korea for its quarantine initiative which has become a global model and for supplying virus testing kits to developing countries. In response, Moon said he expects more cooperation with the foundation in terms of humanitarian assistance to countries vulnerable to infectious diseases, according to the presidential office.

South Korea, despite lingering concerns about a possible new wave of infections, has been relatively successful in containing the virus largely thanks to the effective government measures and the people's compliance with aggressive social distancing guidelines. As a result, new virus cases in the country have dropped significantly for the past week. The country reported 32 new COVID-19 cases, Sunday ― the number of new infections is less than 60 for the seventh consecutive day compared to the Feb. 29 peak of 909 new cases.

South Korea has provided testing kits to numerous countries battling the spread of the coronavirus. President Moon has vowed to share the country's experience from its response to the outbreak and related technologies with the rest of the world to overcome the pandemic early. If the country develops vaccines or at least helps the world find a cure for COVID-19, it will surely be an achievement that makes the country more proud.

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