Vaccine self-reliant PH? DOST says jabs may be manufactured in country by 2022

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 17 2021 11:48 PM

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MANILA — The Philippines can manufacture its own vaccines locally by 2022 as the country pushes for being vaccine self-reliant in the coming years, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said on Saturday.

In an interview on ANC, Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña said this could be achieved through a "fill and finish approach" through the importation of vaccine materials from the vaccine developer. 

Under this approach, an agreement will be made between the Filipino company involved and the said vaccine manufacturer, which will also prepare the facilities. 

The tests will also be subjected to the quality and standard protocols by the Food and Drug Administration. 

"If you want immediate vaccine production, the only way that we can do is to have what we call a fill and finish approach, [which] means [importing] in bulk the materials to be injected and put them in vials that will be needed for vaccination," dela Peña said. 

The agency this week said such fill-and-finish plants are also quicker to assemble and operate as the antigen will be delivered to the country and assembled as injectibles.

These facilities can also manufacture some 40 million jabs annually.

The official added that the shortest possible time frame this could be done would be by next year, but this is just a short term solution, as it would also require technology transfer from the vaccine developer.

"The short term is that of course of the local company's partnering with the foreign company for the technology, the... fill and finish," he said. 

"[The] medium term is to do the vaccine production here but still dependent on the vaccine developer from abroad." 

At least 6 companies are planning to establish vaccination manufacturing facilities in the Philippines, Science Secretary Rowena Cristina Guevara earlier said.

Of the 6 companies, one is a "distributor of a South Korean company," while another has "extensive facilities in Asia" and is planning to partner with a foreign brand where "all the vaccines we need are being manufactured," according to Guevarra.

One firm is connected with a German vaccine developer, another is a "long-term partner of a Chinese vaccine producer" and there is also a group which is planning to partner with a US pharmaceutical company, she said.

Another firm, she said, is planning to "start their local vaccine manufacturing venture with a fill-and-finish facility." 

LONG TERM GOALS 

Dela Peña said that the creation of the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines would help the country to become vaccine self-reliant in the long term. 

The proposed virology institute, he said, would be the research and development arm of the country to do studies on viruses on humans, crops, and even animals. 

It will take two more years, however, to make them operational.

"[The country's virology institute is] for the development of vaccines, drugs, and diagnostic kits, and to transfer the technology for mass production," he pointed out.

"The ultimate goal is to produce products whether it is in the form of vaccines or drugs — the cure or the diagnostic kit that will be needed," he explained. 

Faced with another surge of COVID-19 infections, the Philippines is struggling to get a hold of immediate and fresh supplies of coronavirus vaccines from other manufacturers. 

Because of this, the country has been criticized for its slow vaccine rollout, which started over a month ago, with the government administering over 1.2 million shots. 

The World Health Organization had also urged the Philippine government to boost instead its response capacity in dealing with record infections in the Metro Manila and nearby provinces, as vaccine jabs could only do so much. 

- With a report from Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News