(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in last 10 paras)
SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Thursday that South Korea aims to become the world's fifth-largest vaccine-producing nation in the next four years, in line with the country's bid to become a global COVID-19 vaccine production hub.
In a meeting held at Cheong Wa Dae on the government's vaccine hub strategy, Moon pledged to designate vaccine development as one of the nation's three strategic technology areas, along with those of semiconductors and batteries, and invest 2.2 trillion won (US$1.92 billion) in the next five years.
Moon also explained that a homegrown coronavirus vaccine in development was scheduled to enter phase-three clinical testing this month and expressed hope to achieve commercial use within the first half of 2022.
He also presented a vision of maximizing the production capabilities of South Korean drug manufacturers by expanding tax breaks on vaccine-related research and facilities investment.
"We aim to nurture over 200 new medical scientists annually while promoting the cultivation of man power in the biomedical industry, including some 10,000 experts in clinical testing and 2,000 bio production experts," Moon said.
Moon also promised to cooperate closely with the United States in regard to a Seoul-Washington vaccine supply partnership he forged with U.S. President Joe Biden in May.
The president said the government will also expand global vaccine partnerships to include deals with Germany and Britain. "We will lay the groundwork to create a global vaccine hub by promoting foreign investment and attracting global companies," he added.
Moon also promised to provide support to the development of the supposedly more advanced researching messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, stating that core production technologies of the new type of vaccine were currently under development in South Korea.
The government said it will strengthen support for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine development so that candidates can enter late-stage phase three clinical trials by the end of the year.
The government will inject 166.7 billion won this year into supporting phase three clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines by local drug firms.
There are currently seven local companies, including SK Bioscience Co. and Genexine Inc., that are developing multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines.
SK Bioscience's synthetic antigen-based vaccine is forecast to enter the phase three clinical trial during the latter half of this year.
Genexine's DNA-based vaccine is in phase two trial, and Geneone Life Science is in a phase one trial for its DNA-based vaccine.
The government said it is also considering purchasing homegrown COVID-19 vaccines upon the interim findings of second phase clinical trials or approval of phase three clinical trials.
Separately, the government said it will support biopharmaceutical giant Samsung Biologics, which will begin manufacturing Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine at its local factory later this month.
In May, the biotech unit of Samsung Group signed an agreement with the U.S. drugmaker for contract manufacturing organization (CMO) services for its mRNA vaccine.
The two sides signed the contract during a South Korea-U.S. vaccine partnership event held in Washington, D.C., with President Moon in attendance.