Thailand has long been an active participant in vaccine R&D and is increasingly aware of the importance of self-reliance in vaccine production. Through government support and regional cooperation, Thailand is now positioning itself as a regional hub for vaccine research and production.
I’m confident Thailand can become the vaccine hub in the ASEAN region
Charung Muangchana, NVI
Thailand has been actively supporting the research and development of vaccines for the past 60 years. Back in the 1970s, Bangkok’s Mahidol University was one of the first institutions in the world involved in the development of a vaccine against the dengue virus, which infects nearly 100 million people per year, mostly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Over the last decade, the country has embarked on further projects, such as the construction of a flu vaccine production plant and a partnership with France for the development of a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. Unfortunately, recent political and economic turmoil has shifted authorities’ attention to other priorities, causing most of the projects to stall.
After recent outbreaks in the region, the Thai government has realized the importance of self-reliance in vaccine production. As a result, in September 2015 the Ministry of Health announced the execution of a five-year (2016-21) national vaccine policy, which includes building a vaccine factory. “It is well recognized that the shortage of vaccines for national immunization programs, during both regular and public health emergencies, is critical,” pointed out Dr Narongsak Ungkasuwapala, expert adviser to the Minister of Health, at a workshop held in October 2014 on opportunities for regional vaccine security.
Apparently, the long-term goal includes the establishment of Thailand as a production hub for the region. “I’m confident Thailand can become the vaccine hub in the ASEAN region,” stressed Charung Muangchana, director of the National Vaccine Institute (NVI), to the newspaper The Nation in October 2014. “We have high-calibre researchers and vaccine developers, as well as more than 50 agencies working in the field of vaccine research and development.”
Although Thailand is just catching up on the vaccine front, several companies have identified the importance of Thailand as a regional hub for vaccine production well in advance, such as French manufacturer Sanofi and Thai producer BioNet. The history of Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the French drug company, in Thailand dates back to 1994, when the company established a partnership with the Vaccine Development Centre of the University of Mahidol. The company’s most recent milestone was the start of a joint venture with the Thai Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) in 2013, called the Sanofi Government Pharmaceutical Organization – Merieux Biological Product (GPO-MBP). The objective of the GPO-MBP was to upgrade its vaccine production facility to a capacity of 20 million doses per year and use Thailand’s manufacturing site as a hub to access other markets in the region.
BioNet is planning to use Thailand as a hub to become a leading provider of life-saving vaccines to emerging countries. It already has strong collaborations with major R&D institutions in Thailand and abroad. “We are the first organization to bring Phase I/II clinical study, a vaccine that was completely developed in Thailand,” says CEO Dr Pham Hong Thai. “We are pleased to be playing a pioneering role in the vaccine field and contributing to Thailand’s health care and life sciences development.”