A test tube labelled "COVID-19 Test Positive" is seen in front of displayed words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" in this illustration taken Dec. 11, 2021. (Reuters-Yonhap)
South Korean drugmakers have begun the process to develop COVID-19 vaccines that are effective against the new omicron variant amid concerns that the highly transmissible strain may become a dominant one soon.
As the omicron variant fuels fears around the world that the pandemic could rage during the winter season, local pharmaceutical firms have either begun developing omicron-tailored vaccines or studying whether their vaccine candidates are effective against the strain.
The country does not have a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine yet, but amid the fast spread of the omicron variant, more Korean drugmakers are ramping up efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines.
On Friday, the country added 7,435 more COVID-19 cases, raising the total caseload to 551,551, according to health authorities. Three more omicron variant cases were reported, putting the total at 151.
Leading drugmaker SK Bioscience said it has begun studying whether its COVID-19 vaccine candidate GBP510 is effective in fighting the omicron variant.
GBP510, under the development by a unit of the country's No. 2 family-controlled conglomerate SK Group, is the country's first homegrown vaccine candidate to enter the third and last phase of its clinical trial.
SK Bioscience said it has checked whether GBP510 created neutralizing antibodies against the omicron variant during animal testing. The results have not yet been released.
The clinical trial is comparing GBP510 against the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and Oxford University to view immunogenicity and safety.
SK Bioscience earlier said it aims to produce an interim result of its final stage of the clinical trial in the first quarter of next year before seeking final approval. Commercialization is expected as early as in the first half of next year.
Smaller bio firm Genexine is also testing the effectiveness of its DNA-based vaccine candidate, GX-19N, against the omicron variant. The vaccine candidate is currently in phase two of its clinical trial.
Another smaller player, Eubiologics, meanwhile, has begun developing a omicron-targeted COVID-19 vaccine.
The company said it plans to conduct animal testing of its vaccine candidate within this month based on its own unique platform technology.
Small biotech firm Cellid also said it has begun the process of developing vaccines tailored to fight against the omicron variant. It will seek to get approval for a phase one clinical trial within the next three months.
The company's other viral vector vaccine against the COVID-19 virus is currently in the second phase of a clinical trial. (Yonhap)