SK bioscience could lose AztraZeneca as customer - Korea Times
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SK bioscience could lose AztraZeneca as customer

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SK bioscience's vaccine production plant in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province / Courtesy of SK bioscience
SK bioscience's vaccine production plant in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province / Courtesy of SK bioscience

By Kim Bo-eun

SK bioscience may lose a major customer, as its contract to manufacture AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines will expire at the end of this year. The government has decided that it will terminate the use of AstraZeneca's vaccines at the end of 2021, given that it has secured sufficient volumes of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

The two companies signed a contract in July last year for SK bioscience to manufacture AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines. SK has been manufacturing the vaccines at its plant in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province. The vaccines produced here have been supplied both locally and globally.

AstraZeneca said that SK could continue to manufacture its vaccines even if local use is terminated, given that the majority of them are exported.

"Discussions are ongoing over future plans, and we hope for the decision to be reviewed," an AstraZeneca official said, Thursday. "AZ has contributed to coping with COVID-19 in the early stages and supported Korea's plan to become a trusted global vaccine hub. We wish to move on to the next chapter of the partnership for public health and the development of Korea's bio-health industry."

An SK bioscience official said, "It has not been decided yet whether the contract will be extended. The matter will be decided between the companies, regardless of the government's decision on local vaccine use."

Under their contract, SK bioscience received technological transfers to manufacturer the vaccine. AstraZeneca also assisted the SK affiliate in the development of its own vaccine candidate.

SK bioscience, however, at the same time said that it is in discussions with multiple vaccine makers over possible contract manufacturing deals at its Andong plant. It said that the possible fallout that could occur from not renewing the contract with AstraZeneca could well be offset by contracts with new clients.

"Talks are ongoing with vaccine makers, given that there continues to be high demand for COVID-19 vaccines globally, especially in developing countries," the SK bioscience official said.

According to the official, five of the nine lines at SK bioscience's Andong plant have been designated for COVID-19 vaccines: one is used for AstraZeneca, three for Novavax and one for SK's own vaccine candidate.

SK bioscience is also contract manufacturing U.S. firm Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine. Korea's public health authorities said this week that they are looking to approve the vaccine.

Kim Bo-eun

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