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S. Korea’s first clinical trial of COVID-19 vaccine to take off this month

President Yon Su Kim (right) and Prof. Myoung-don Oh from Seoul National University Hospital and Dr. Jerome Kim (center), Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), pose for a photo at the signing ceremony for COVID-19 vaccine (INO-4800) clinical trial in South Korea at the hospital in Seoul on June 4. (IVI)
President Yon Su Kim (right) and Prof. Myoung-don Oh from Seoul National University Hospital and Dr. Jerome Kim (center), Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), pose for a photo at the signing ceremony for COVID-19 vaccine (INO-4800) clinical trial in South Korea at the hospital in Seoul on June 4. (IVI)

South Korea’s first clinical trials of a vaccine for COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are slated to begin this month.

The International Vaccine Institute and Seoul National University Hospital said Thursday they were partnering up for phase 1 and 2 trials of pharmaceutical company Inovio’s vaccine candidate dubbed INO-4800.

“South Korea is one of the first countries in the world set to test a COVID-19 vaccine (after the United States, China, United Kingdom and Germany),” Director General Dr. Jerome Kim of the IVI, a Seoul-based international nonprofit organization dedicated to vaccine research, said in a signing ceremony held Thursday morning at Seoul National University Hospital.

“The trials are a crucial step in the development of an urgently needed vaccine,” he said.

The jointly conducted study will proceed in two stages, the first of which will include 40 healthy adults aged 19-50 years to assess the vaccine candidate’s safety. An additional 120 people aged 19-64 will be enrolled in the next stage for examining its tolerability and immunogenicity.

Part of the funding for the trials -- 8.4 billion won ($6.9 millon) -- comes from Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness, a Bill Gates-backed organization supporting infectious disease vaccine development.

Scientists at the Korea National Institute of Health will run the assay for determining whether the vaccine candidate generates the right immune responses, which will be funded separately by the government.

An IVI official said under a rosiest time frame, preliminary data from the phase 1 trial are projected to be available by early September.

The speedy progress was aided by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety’s April decision to expedite the approvals for testing vaccines and therapeutics against COVID-19, a regulatory break giving exemptions from certain administrative protocols.

Leading the trials, Dr. Oh Myoung-don of the SNU Hospital said the launch of the vaccine’s clinical trials here marked a significant milestone toward normalcy amid a pandemic.

“Prolonging physical distancing cannot be sustainable. Hopes of a vaccine allow us to envision a return to normal life,” he said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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