By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korean pharmaceutical companies have joined the global race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, but none of them have received approval for clinical trials for a vaccine or treatment candidates from the country's drug safety agency.
Celltrion Inc., a major pharmaceutical giant, has announced that it plans to develop a "super antibody" candidate that can help prepare for potential future pandemics.
Celltrion was earlier selected as a preferred developer for a monoclonal antibody project to treat and prevent COVID-19 by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We are preparing for clinical trials after selecting candidates for the COVID-19 antibody," said Celltrion CEO Jang Sin-jae in a conference call last week, adding that the new treatment is expected to show efficacy in COVID-19 patients in both the short and long term.
Celltrion said the super antibody would neutralize different kinds of COVID-19-related strains, enabling further protection against unforeseen or unexpected mutations.
"The super antibody not only instantly neutralizes the infected patient's virus but also can prevent the virus coming from the outside over the next two to three weeks," he said.
Celltrion said it has selected 38 antibody candidates from the blood of fully recovered patients in the country, with a goal of conducting clinical trials on humans by July.
Local small-sized drug firm Bioneer Corp. also said it has applied for patents for candidates for COVID-19 treatment that can suppress the proliferation of both COVID-19 and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
A total of some 960 candidates have been selected, officials said. The company aims to conduct clinical trials on animals early next month.
"We are cooperating not only with local but also overseas government organizations for the development of COVID-19 treatment," said a company official who asked not to be named. "We plan to conduct clinical trials on humans by the end of this year."
Other firms have also joined the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, but their research stage is relatively early at the moment, far lagging behind foreign rivals.
Spearheading the local effort is a six-firm consortium led by biopharmaceutical maker Genexine Inc. and SK Bioscience, a unit of the country's No. 3 conglomerate SK Group.
The Genexine consortium has successfully carried out an experiment of its vaccine candidate on monkeys, with consortium member Binex completing the production of a sample.
The consortium is scheduled to submit a clinical test plan to health authorities within this month in the hope of starting trials in June.
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