(ATTN: ADDS more details on clinical tests in last 2 paras)
Seoul, June 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will fully back local development of treatment drugs and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, even if foreign companies find a cure first, the country's health minister said Tuesday.
In a gathering of economic and social experts in Sejong, 130 kilometers, south of Seoul, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neunghoo made clear that the policy of the Moon Jae-in administration is to get local bio-pharmaceutical to develop a means to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We are aiming to get companies to come up with treatment as fast as possible, and even if others do it before us, the policy is to provide continued support until a viable drug or vaccine can be made in the country," the policymaker said.
He said that while local drugmakers are hesitant to go all out to develop treatment based on past experience, there will not be a repeat of past measures.
The government, in the past, reduced support for development after foreign rivals developed cures for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. This kind of history has been seen as causing some companies here to be hesitant on trying to find treatment.
Park said that the goal is to ensure that a company that makes a drug, or comes up with a vaccine, will be able to turn a profit and recoup their investment.
The official then said that many large pharmaceutical companies are actively working on finding a drug and he expected one or two treatment methods to become available in the future.
Related to finding treatment, two major South Korean hospitals said they have halted clinical tests of chloroquine, a malaria drug that some say can help people with COVID-19.
Asan Medical Center and Gangnam Severance Hospital said the decision was made because they could not find enough people willing to undergo tests. This follows a move from the U.S. warning of side effects of the drug.
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