Republic of Korea Named as WHO-Supported Global Training Hub for Manufacturing Vaccines and Biologicals
Republic of Korea’s Minister of Health Kwon Deok-Chul

The Republic of Korea will serve as the global biomanufacturing training hub for all low- and middle-income countries that want to produce biologicals, including vaccines, insulin, monoclonal antibodies and cancer treatment, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, five more countries will also receive support from the WHO-supported global mRNA tech transfer and training hubs in South Africa and Korea.  Those include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia and Vietnam. 

A large facility outside Seoul that is already carrying out biomanufacturing training will expand its operations to accommodate trainees from other countries, supported by the Berlin-based WHO Academy.

“The facility will provide technical and hands-on training on operational and good manufacturing practice requirements and will complement specific training developed by the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub in South Africa,” according to the WHO.

Making the announcement at a media briefing on Wednesday, WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the hubs as “strategic solutions to inequality”.

“One of the key barriers to successful technology transfer in low- and middle-income countries is the lack of a skilled workforce and weak regulatory systems,” added Dr Tedros.

“Building those skills will ensure that they can manufacture the health products they need at a good quality standard so that they no longer have to wait at the end of the queue.”

Republic of Korea’s Minister of Health Kwon Deok-Chul said that just 60 years ago, his country had been one of the poorest countries in the world but that with help from the WHO and the international community, it had “transitioned into a country with a strong public health system and bio-industry”.

“Korea deeply cherishes the solidarity that the international community has shown us during our transition. By sharing these lessons we’ve learnt from our own experience in the past, we will strive to support the low- and middle-income countries in strengthening their biomanufacturing capabilities so that we could pave the way together towards a safer world during the next pandemic,” said Deok-Chul.

In stark contrast, secrecy surrounds the status of COVID-19 vaccination rollouts in the Republic of Korea’s northern neighbour. This month, COVAX scaled back vaccines it had allocated to North Korea as it had failed to arrange shipments.   It has also declined vaccine donations from a range of countries including China and is not known to have procured a single vaccine although its borders remain closed.

More countries join mRNA hub

As for the five new countries in Asia and Europe that will also receive training support from the WHO global mRNA hub: 

“These countries were vetted by a group of experts and proved that they had the capacity to absorb the technology and, with targeted training, move to production stage relatively quickly,” according to the WHO. 

“Indonesia is one of the countries that continuously supports vaccine equity and equal access to COVID-19 vaccines for all countries, including through transfer of vaccine technology and know-how to developing countries,” said Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia.

“This transfer of technology will contribute to equal access to health countermeasures, which will help us to recover together and recover stronger. This is the kind of solution that developing countries need. A solution that empowers and strengthens our self-reliance, as well as a solution that allows us to contribute to global health resilience.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi at Wednesday’s media briefing alongside Dr Tedros.

“Support from the World Health Organization in this process is of essential importance for the development of continuing, quality and safe production of vaccines and medical products,” said Dr Zlatibor Loncar, Minister of Health, Serbia. “The development of new technology means the development of professional knowledge of Serbian experts and training of new young staff, as the absolute national priority.”  

”Although Viet Nam is a developing country, we have had a lot of experience in vaccine development over the past decades,” said Dr Nguyen Thanh Long, Minister of Health, Viet Nam. 

“Our National Regulatory Authority (NRA) has also been recognized by WHO. We believe that in participating in this initiative, Viet Nam will produce the mRNA vaccine not only for domestic consumption but also for other countries in the region and the world, contributing to reducing inequalities in access to vaccines.”

Argentina and Brazil were the first countries from the region of the Americas to receive mRNA technology from the global hub in South Africa, joining the initiative in September 2021. Companies from those countries are already receiving training from the technology transfer hub. 

Break cycle of dependency

“If we want to achieve better global and regional health outcomes, including better preparedness for future health emergencies, we must break our region’s cycle of dependency in a highly concentrated global vaccine market,” aid Argentina’s health minister Dr Carla Vizzotti.

Despite the barriers, Argentina has vaccinated over 80% of its people, she added.

While the WHO said that “numerous countries” responded to the call for expressions of interest from the technology transfer hub in late 2021, it would prioritise countries that do not have mRNA technology but already have some biomanufacturing infrastructure and capacity. 

WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan added that the WHO had still not given up on getting BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna to share its technology and know-how.

Quest for pan-coronavirus vaccine 

Meanwhile, earlier this week the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), announced that it will partner with a consortium comprised of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), an autonomous institute of the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology, and Indian biotech company Panacea Biotec, to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine against MERS, SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.

CEPI will provide funding of up to $12.5m to support the development of vaccine candidates and advance the manufacturing process, according to the coalition. 


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