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Samsung wins contract to produce COVID-19 treatments

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Samsung Biologics' plant 3 in Incheon is seen in this file photo. Courtesy of Samsung BioLogics
Samsung Biologics' plant 3 in Incheon is seen in this file photo. Courtesy of Samsung BioLogics

Pact comes day after President Moon asks South Korea's expanded role to develop COVID-19 vaccines

By Kim Yoo-chul

Samsung Biologics has won $360 million worth of orders for contract production of biopharmaceutical products from a San Francisco-based startup. Under the agreement, the South Korean company will start producing COVID-19 treatment drugs once the U.S. firm completes the development of the drugs.

"Samsung Biologics agreed with Nasdaq-listed Vir Biotechnology to perform large-scale manufacturing services for Vir's SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody (mAb) program. The estimate monetary value of the contract is about $360 million, which is 63 percent out of the total revenue Samsung Biologics reported last year. By volume, the contract is the largest ever since Samsung went public," company spokesman Seo Hae-su said on Friday.

Under the agreement, Samsung Biologics is expected to commence its manufacturing from October this year, at the earliest possible date with the first engineering run, with commercial batches to be manufactured possibly starting in 2021 at Samsung's local plant in Songdo, some 30 kilometers southwest of Seoul.

The Samsung official said both Samsung Biologics and Vir would continue to negotiate additional terms of details in a definitive pact and added the parties will use their "best efforts" to reach a definitive agreement by the end of July.

"We are proud to be working as a partner with Vir in their response to the global COVID-19 pandemic," Samsung Biologics CEO Kim Tae-han said in a released statement. "Vir's candidate molecules supported by Samsung's production scale have the potential to bring hope to countless lives across nations suffering from COVID-19."

Samsung Biologics CEO Kim Tae-han
Samsung Biologics CEO Kim Tae-han
Vir Biotechnology is on track to conduct experimental treatments and potentially vaccines for COVID-19. Vir's lead drugs against the coronavirus, which are monoclonal antibodies, could enter efficacy studies in humans in the next three to five months. Also, the top-tier pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline decided recently to invest up to $250 million in Vir, helping the two encompasses a long-term project to develop a vaccine that might prevent infection from the contagious virus.

Specifically, according to officials, Vir's drugs being pipelined are both based on a single antibody from this patient, and both have been modified to last longer in the body. The company has altered one of the drugs in a bid to create long-term immunity, much like a vaccine. That particular technology has never been tested in humans before, according to them.

Officials and drug experts said antibody drugs could be used in three possible ways ― to prevent people at high risk, such as healthcare workers, from ever becoming infected, to prevent those infected from developing severe respiratory problems that can make COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, deadly, and to treat people who are already in respiratory distress.

The Samsung-Vir partnership came a day after President Moon Jae-in asked presidential aides, relevant government agencies and private pharmaceutical companies to stand together to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The Korean leader said the country is ideally positioned to take a lead in developing them.

In a joint meeting with industry, academia, research centers and hospital officials, Thursday, Moon said he is hoping Korea can develop vaccines and relevant medicines that can save human lives, stressing the development of vaccines and drugs is "essential" for putting a complete end to the coronavirus outbreak. The government plans to invest 210 billion won or some $172 million to support vaccine development projects.

Kim Yoo-chul


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