EDITORIAL - Vaccine green lane?

EDITORIAL - Vaccine green lane?

(The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2021 - 12:00am

BioNTech, the German partner of US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in the development of the world’s groundbreaking COVID vaccine, has finalized a deal to set up its Southeast Asian vaccine production hub in Singapore. BioNTech expects the facility to be operational by 2023, producing “several hundreds of millions” of mRNA-based vaccine doses a year.

The deal follows the announcement last month of a partnership between French pharmaceutical company Sanofi with the Economic Development Board of Singapore to set up a 400-million-euro vaccine production facility in the city-state over the next five years.

Both BioNTech and Sanofi said they picked Singapore because it is an innovation hub with global connectivity and the needed talents for the projects as well as, according to the German drugmaker, the “perfect business climate.” BioNTech admitted that being the host country, Singapore would get “a certain percentage” of the vaccines produced.

There are lessons to be learned here as the Philippines also moves to encourage domestic vaccine production. Instead of the swift conclusion of production deals, however, the Anti-Red Tape Authority has issued a show-cause order to the Food and Drug Administration.

The order, issued to FDA Center for Drug Regulation and Research head Jesusa Cirunay, was reportedly based on 23 affidavits from several pharmaceutical companies detailing the delays since 2014 in the FDA’s approval of over 600 drug applications, many of them for mere automatic renewal, “despite completeness” of the required submissions.

The FDA has expressed readiness to cooperate in the probe. ARTA also wants the FDA to explain reports that about three pharmaceutical companies backed out of plans to set up vaccine plants in the Philippines after they experienced extortion.

ARTA and other government agencies are crafting a joint circular to set up a green lane for local vaccine manufacturers. ARTA head Jeremiah Belgica said a one-stop shop would ensure that all the needed permits from national agencies and local government units would be obtained by the manufacturers within seven to 20 days. At least two companies are reportedly “almost ready” for a fill-and-finish type of manufacturing operation, with vaccine components imported in bulk for finishing at the plant. This would allow the plant to be operational within just 10 months.

Instead of speed, however, certain companies were allegedly asked for grease money, prompting them to go to Thailand and Vietnam. The two countries are already undertaking clinical trials for COVID vaccines developed locally, with the jabs expected to be rolled out by early next year. If the allegations hurled against the FDA prove accurate, the Philippines is certain to be the regional laggard in pandemic recovery.

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