Back in October 2021, PharmaBoardroom ran through the leading Korean companies in the race to develop a homegrown vaccine against COVID-19. This came in the wake of the country’s government launching an ambitious 2.2 trillion won (USD 1.9 billion) investment plan to become one of the world’s five largest COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing hubs by 2025. The plan aims not only to boost Korea’s economy but also help the country better cope with future pandemics.


On what history may remember as a momentous day for Korean healthcare innovation – Friday September 2nd, 2022 – SK Bioscience, the leading contender from that list, made its first shipment of 609,000 doses of its SKYCovione™ vaccine for domestic use.


The company, a vaccine-focused spinoff from major national firm SK Chemicals, has signed an advanced purchase agreement for ten million doses of its jab with the Korean government. Not stopping there, SK plans to roll out the product to international markets, with the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) having already begun reviews for its conditional marketing authorisation. SK also plans to apply for emergency use listing (EUL) to the World Health Organization (WHO) which, if obtained, would allow SKYCovione™ to be made available to the COVAX Facility for worldwide distribution.


While this vaccine may go down as a Korean success story, its progress required close international collaboration, having been developed based on technology created by the Institute for Protein Design (IPD) at the University of Washington School of Medicine in combination with GSK’s pandemic adjuvant. Its development was also supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Programme.


Reflecting the scale of the announcement, Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-Soo was quoted in an SK Bioscience press release, saying “The shipment of the Korea’s first COVID-19 vaccine, SKYCovione™, is a valuable achievement through close cooperation between SK bioscience, the Korean government as well as domestic and international initiatives. The government will continue to support SK bioscience to contribute overcoming the pandemic and further accelerate the development of new Korean vaccines.”


SK executives were also ebullient at the news. “With the shipment of SKYCovione™ today, we have finally achieved the two-track strategy based on global CDMO and joint-development of COVID-19 vaccine,” said SK Bioscience CEO Ahn Jaeyong. “We as a global innovative partner of vaccine and biotech, will not stop at today’s achievements, but continuously work with various global initiatives to preemptively respond to new pandemics.”


Andrew Chey, executive vice chairman of SK discovery added, “Our mission as a vaccine company was to develop a COVID-19 vaccine to contribute overcoming the pandemic and strengthen global public health. Starting with SKYCovione™, which was able to be developed with the help of numerous domestic and international initiatives, we will further expand our partnerships and investment in R&D to respond to the next pandemic.”