SK Bioscience Co. Ltd. has secured a contract manufacturing organization (CMO) order for a new coronavirus vaccine candidate under development by the US-based Novavax Inc., the South Korean company said on August 13.
The deal marked its second order to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine contender after it agreed in July to produce the pandemic vaccine candidate for the UK-based AstraZeneca Plc.
Under the agreement with Novavax, SK Bioscience will begin production of the antigen component of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate NVX-CoV2373 at its domestic vaccine plant this month. If approved, the product will be supplied to global markets and South Korea.
Novavax has marked the fastest progress in developing a recombinant COVID-19 vaccine candidate among recombinant-type vaccine developers. It is planning to enter the third-phase clinical trial for the drug as early as October. An antigen is derived from the coronavirus spike protein.
The US vaccine developer has secured $2 billion in funding for its global coronavirus vaccine program, including up to $388 million in funding from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a private foundation.
SK Bioscience is also developing its own recombinant coronavirus vaccine, which is scheduled to undergo its first-phase clinical trial next month.
PRODUCTION FACILITY EXPANSION, IPO
SK Bioscience operates facilities for both cell culture and recombinant protein production, two of three traditional vaccine production methods. Its facilities have capacity to produce 150 million doses per year.
The unit of SK Chemicals Co. Ltd. plans to increase its annual production capacity to 500 million doses by next year, on hopes of securing additional manufacturing deals in the growing CMO market for the pharmaceutical industry.
For the AstraZeneca deal, SK Bioscience will use its cell culture facility at home. The AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is far ahead of other cell culture-based vaccine candidates in terms of development speed.
Based on the contract price of about $5 per dose at which Brazil has already agreed to produce AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine candidate, SK Bioscience is expected to secure 750 billion won ($632 million) in sales from the deal with the British pharmaceutical company.
Meanwhile, SK Bioscience is gearing up for a 2021 initial public offering to fund its business expansion. Last month, it picked NH Investment & Securities Co. Ltd. as its IPO lead manager and Korea Investment & Securities Co. Ltd. as a joint bookrunner.
SK Biopharmaceuticals Co. Ltd., another SK Group unit, debuted on the Korea stock exchange in July. Shares in the epilepsy treatment drug maker have nearly quadrupled to 186,000 won from the IPO price as of Thursday’s close.
By Ju-hyun Lee
<Edited by Yeonhee Kim>