Turkey: Koçak Farma & The Push for Homegrown COVID-19 Vaccines

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As the international community continues its quest to vaccinate the global population against COVID-19, shortages of already approved vaccines have put many countries on the waiting list. Approved vaccines from the United States, Europe, China and Russia have taken the lead but new candidates from the rest of the world continue to advance their clinical trials, promising to fill the gap. Turkish researchers at Koçak Farma have developed a vaccine made of inactivated coronaviruses that has grabbed headlines in recent weeks.

 

Koçak Farma has the largest production facility in Turkey, exporting products to 50 countries, and began Phase I clinical trials of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate on April 8.

 

Their interest in vaccines has taken a prominent role in their current activities, but it is not a new territory for the company. Hakan Koçak, CEO, told PharmaBoardroom back in 2018 that, at the time, the company was already “working on complex monoclonal antibodies, vaccines and other biotechnology areas we can bring to the country, in our R&D centers approved by the Ministry of Health. It is not possible to grow fast producing only chemical products, so you have to diversify the product avenues in which you can take.”

 

That vision appears to be paying off and, thanks to support and funding from the Ministry of Health, their candidate is part of a short list of vaccines that could put Turkey among a selected group of countries with successful vaccine R&D ecosystems.

 

This is not the first activity of the company in supporting Turkey during the pandemic. “We are contributing to the battle against COVID-19 with products already in use such as azithromycin tablet as well as registering hydroxychloroquine tablet and oseltamivir capsules which are used in first-line treatment of COVID 19,” the CEO said in a recent interview.

 

Koçak Farma’s vaccine is an inactivated vaccine that uses the dead version of the virus that causes the disease. Those vaccines are created from weakened coronaviruses or coronaviruses that have been killed with chemicals. With that process, the inactivated coronaviruses can no longer replicate, but their proteins, including the characteristic spike proteins, remain intact.

 

Other vaccine candidates using this technology include those from Valneva, Sinopharm-Beijing Institute, Sinovac, India’s Bharat Biotech and the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Sinovac’s vaccine, CoronaVac, has been approved in China and obtained emergency authorization in over 20 countries, including Turkey where local trials showed a 91.25 percent efficacy.

 

Although Koçak’s vaccine is promising, it is not the only one being developed in Turkey; their shot is “competing” with candidates bveing developed at academic institutions across the country, including vaccines from Erciyes University (Phase II), Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (Phase I) and another from the Middle East Technical University and Bilkent University (Phase I).


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