Gov't eyeing private sector to lead PH vaccine manufacturing efforts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — The government wants private companies to be at the forefront of establishing the country’s capacity to produce vaccines on its own.

“Manufacturing is an activity that is best suited to the private sector and that is the reason why we are pushing the private sector to take the lead on vaccine manufacturing in the country,” said DOST Usec. Rowena Guevara in a virtual forum.

Authorities are in talks with six local potential vaccine manufacturers, according to the official, who kept these entities unnamed in observation of non-disclosure agreements with them. However, she provided descriptions of the developers:

- a distributor of a South Korean company who is currently in talks with two companies for the formation of a venture and with the National Development Company

- a company who has extensive facilities in Asia and whose intended foreign partner already manufactures vaccines the country needs against diseases like polio, HIV, tuberculosis, COVID-19 and other non-COVID-19 vaccines

- a company connected with a vaccine developer in Germany which has already expressed willingness to partner with government and has begun talks with the DTI-Board of Investments and NDC

- a long-term partner of a Chinese vaccine producer who is interested in local manufacturing. DTI-BOI and NDC are already discussing with this company how to fast-track its plans

- a company who has already given NDC a pre-feasibility study for a vaccine — it intends to “initially do form and fill then COVID-19” vaccines. It is also looking for a possible partner, one of which is a company based in the United States

“For the private sector, as long as there is a market and they have the capability, they are going to be sustainable and we have seen this in many activities of the private sector,” noted Guevara.

The DOST official likewise revealed that two out of the six firms may even begin producing vaccines on their own by late 2022 depending on how aggressive they are in the pursuit of their plans.

Guevarra added that no preferential treatment will be given to manufacturers prioritizing COVID-19 vaccines, even as the Philippines seeks to boost its vaccine-making capability for COVID-19 and other diseases. Government is guaranteeing an "enabling environment" for manufacturers eyeing a purely private vaccine development to encourage procurement of their products.

In a separate briefing on Thursday, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said once all the requirements have been ironed out, these companies vying to construct vaccine plants may start pouring investments into the Philippines this 2021.

Lopez added the DTI will help the firms in securing requirements by the Food and Drug Administration.

"Hopefully this year or next year, actual investments will come in," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday night that other government offices must heed the Trade Department's requests for assistance to potential local vaccine manufacturers.

"Ang hiningi lang ni Sec. Lopez (What Sec. Lopez asks is), assistance. Requested greenlane on government permits. Will subscribe to all requirements and submit documents but need faster production," Duterte said in his national address.

Lopez revealed to the President that local pharmaceutical giant United Laboratories (Unilab) Inc. and Glovax Biotech Corp. are the potential local vaccine makers in the country.

In his presentation, the DTI chief said Unilab started to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines last April 7 and its facility may operate by 2023. Meanwhile, Glovax inked an agreement with South Korea-based technology partner Eubiologics for its local vaccine manufacturing and may finish their plant by October 2022.