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(LEAD) 1st clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine in S. Korea to kick off this month

National 14:32 June 04, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS photo and more info on Remdesivir in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, June 4 (Yonhap) -- A Seoul-based international vaccine research institute said Thursday that it will start clinical trials of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus in South Korea.

The first and second phase clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate, dubbed INO-4800, are expected to kick off here by the end of this month, according to the International Vaccine Institute (IVI).

The clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine will be the country's first.

The trials will be conducted in cooperation with Seoul National University (SNU) Hospital by using DNA vaccine candidate developed by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, the IVI said.

Seoul National University President Kim Yon-su (R) and professor Oh Myoung-don (L) and Jerome Kim (C), director general of the IVI, pose for a photo at the signing ceremony for COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in Seoul on June 4, 2020, in this photo provided by the International Vaccine Institute (IVI).

The trials are funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and supported by the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), it said.

"South Korea is one of the first countries in the world set to test a COVID-19 vaccine (after the U.S., China, UK, and Germany), and we are happy to collaborate with South Korean partners to accelerate clinical development of a COVID-19 vaccine through our partnership with INOVIO and CEPI." said Dr. Jerome Kim, director general of IVI, in a press release.

Currently, three sets of research by research organizations are under way, and other local biotech firms have also joined the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, their research is at a relatively early stage, lagging far behind foreign rivals, according to experts.

The IVI said speedy regulatory approval was made possible after the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety adopted a fast-track approval process for clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, trials will be conducted just two months after a similar clinical study began in the United States in early April.

"Social distancing is making life challenging in all different aspects of our society, including business, education, culture, sports, and international exchange, and we have reached a point where social distancing is not sustainable any longer," said Oh Myoung-don of SNU Hospital, who will lead the clinical trials.

On Wednesday, the country's drug safety agency approved the use of Remdesivir as a treatment drug for COVID-19 using its special measures procedure, paving the way for inbound shipments of the new drug for the first time.

The country has yet to complete its clinical tests for the new drug by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences Inc., but the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety earlier said the drug has been proven in many other countries to help reduce the time needed to cure coronavirus patients.

khj@yna.co.kr
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