After launching the first Korean COVID-19 vaccine, SKYCovione, SK Bioscience is preparing for its next big milestone, a US subsidiary, with the appointment of two new executives who are already securely anchored in the American life sciences ecosystem: former senior program officer in global health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Harry Kleanthous, and US FDA alumni Sally Choe.
We hope to be more globally competitive, comparable to major bio-pharmaceutical companies worldwide.
Jaeyong Ahn, CEO
Laying the Groundwork for US Operations
SK Bioscience announced earlier this month that it would be setting up a subsidiary in the US at the beginning of next year. Hun Kim, former chief technical officer who orchestrated the company’s cooperation with and funding from the BMGF and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the development and production of SKYCovione, along with SK’s CDMO business, was named as CEO of SK Bioscience USA. Two more executives have now come onboard to accelerate the company’s entry into the new market, both of whom have a firm footing in the US: Harry Kleanthous as executive vice president of vaccine R&D strategy and external innovation and Sally Choe, as head of global clinical development and regulatory affairs.
SK Bioscience’s US operations will be based in Boston, one of the world’s most important biotech and academic hubs, and although the company has not commented on this aspect of the move, the decision has come after President Joe Biden’s US biotechnology and bio-manufacturing initiative that is expected to pressure foreign biotech companies to build production facilities in the United States. SK currently generates a large part of its revenue from its CMO and CDMO business, which includes production for the American biotech Novavax of its COVID-19 vaccine.
According to a company press release “the office will focus on new business opportunities with various industry partners and governmental organizations and will continue to build its strong relationships with CEPI and the BMGF.
American Industry Veterans
Dr Harry Kleanthous has been a part of the US biotech and biopharma ecosystem for some 30 years. An expert in the field of vaccines, he comes to SK after serving as VP of research at Acambis and head of research for North America at Sanofi Pasteur, apart from his previous role at the BMGF.
Dr Sally Choe, comes to her new role at SK from a 12-year stint at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), her most recent role being director of the office of generic drugs (OGD). Choe is an expert in drug review, clinical pharmacology, and medical product development.
SK Bioscience, a spinoff from major national firm, SK Chemicals, has been racking up success stories for some time. In addition to SKYCovione, a domestically developed COVID-19 vaccine that made its first shipment of 609,000 doses for use in Korea in September 2022, SK is also responsible for SKY Cellflu, the first cell-cultured quadrivalent flu vaccine, the SKY Zoster shingles vaccine, and SKY Varicella, Korea’s only WHO-prequalified varicella vaccine.
About the company’s international expansion, CEO Jaeyong Ahn said: “As we have successfully developed our own COVID-19 vaccine and carried out [our] CDMO business during the COVID-19 pandemic, we attract significant global interest. We hope to be more globally competitive, comparable to major bio-pharmaceutical companies worldwide.”