[워싱턴 인사이트] Is mRNA only corona vaccine? Is it possible to counterattack by ‘patentless’ old vaccines?


America obsessed with innovation and speed… ‘Creating mRNA’ to survive

It is undeniable that the coronavirus vaccine was created at an unprecedented rate in human history. The latest vaccine technology called mRNA had reached a certain level just in time, and a super-speed vaccine was born as the corona virus exploded during the reign of President Trump. The United States was virtually in a state of panic as the coronavirus spread as a pandemic. There were obvious limitations to the Republican regime’s compulsory social distancing and wearing a mask, which severely restrict individual freedom, and even Trump himself had a strange personal character that always moves against the advice of quarantine experts. Although he was a vaccine skeptic, Trump changed his position after the pandemic as the fastest and most reliable way to tackle the coronavirus. (Of course, in the beginning, there was a lot of confusion due to false belief in malaria drugs.) Under the name of the ultra-high-speed operation, an unprecedented job of simultaneously carrying out clinical trials and vaccine production was carried out. I was not in a position to hide. Although the United States is meticulous in its procedures and procedures, Trump has harshly denounced government departments to approve vaccines as soon as possible to break the bureaucracy. Even before the clinical results were announced, Trump lauded himself as a great success even after picking up a word or two from his staff, and experts looked at it with concern. The US government sponsored several candidate vaccines, and the first to cross the finish line were the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. By October 2020, the U.S. government had poured a whopping $12 billion, or over 14 trillion won, into vaccines. Trump took this huge risk for his re-election, but ironically, it didn’t help at all. The coronavirus vaccine became the number one contributor to allowing the Biden government to declare coronavirus free before the delta mutation took off in earnest.

By analogy, mRNA vaccine technology can be said to be a fast sports car. It has the latest design and the speed is amazing, and it is the envy of everyone, but there are not many people on board. The supply was always in short supply, and the US even mobilized the defense materials law to procure vaccines and put the vaccine US first. In fact, in order to carry a lot of people, we had to make a bus even if it was a bit shaky, but because we were obsessed with innovation and speed, there was no such situation. It is also true that mutations continued to appear and threaten humanity, so they were no longer psyched. However, two years after the appearance of the corona virus, large buses using old technology are appearing one by one in the world. The old bus-like thing is a protein recombination (genetic recombination) vaccine, such as Corbevacs and Novavax. This technology was used to make a hepatitis B vaccine in the 1980s, so it is familiar to mankind. It has advantages in that it is convenient to store and transport, and above all, it can lower the production cost. Of course, this cannot be done if the price is raised by asking for the added value of intellectual property to be recognized. However, the Corbevax have completely revolted against this move. The research team has declared that they will not claim a patent for the vaccine. It’s like seeing a bus driver shouting that anyone can get on and escape from the hell hole because this bus is a ‘free bus’. People without money have never even thought of riding a sports car, but they are puzzled as to where the free bus came from.


Vaccine development started with seed money from vodka company… “We don’t want money”

Professor Peter Hotez, the research director who created Corbevacs, and Professor Maria Botachi Baylor, Medical School, can only be called heretics in the eyes of the mainstream pharmaceutical industry. It takes great courage to create a vaccine that doesn’t claim a patent. There is a lot of potential to be seen as a trouble maker that breaks the industry’s tacit rules. It may be a day to be prepared to be buried by pharmaceutical companies so powerful that it is said that two-thirds of US Congressional donations come from the pharmaceutical industry. I was curious about what kind of person would have the guts to do such a reckless thing, so I decided to do an interview. Professor Hotez is one of the most frequently featured experts in US TV news on vaccines. It was impressive because he had a shaggy beard in a bow tie, and it seemed even more peculiar that he often appeared on TV shows and even prepared a stick microphone on his desk.

The vaccine research team at Baylor Medical School, led by him, has actually been preparing a vaccine since the time of the SARS epidemic. But by the time their product was about to come out, the SARS threat was gone. When I made my body and entered the arena, the game was already over. However, that technology has been applied to this corona vaccine. But while it had to finance the development of a vaccine to bring it to the world, Corbevax was not a suitable target for the US government, which was looking for a vaccine to be released before the election. It was private philanthropy that helped the Baylor Medical School team, which had been shunned by the US government. A $1 million grant from a Texas vodka company became the seed money. After a lot of hard work, the Corbevax crossed the finish line in India, not America. On the 28th of last month, the Indian government granted emergency use authorization, making it a vaccine that can start inoculation in the human world. Indian pharmaceutical company Biologic E has already shipped 150 million doses of the vaccine and is ready to go. The pharmaceutical company plans to produce 100 million doses of the vaccine per month. The Indian government has completed 300 million pre-orders.


Kim Soo-hyung
It is predicted that Pfizer and Moderna will make 111 trillion won from vaccine sales this year alone. In a vaccine market where trillions of dollars come and go, giving up a patent is not an easy decision. I had no choice but to ask Hotez and Professor Botachi if it was really true that they didn’t get a single penny. “We don’t want to make money,” Hotez responded. He explained that he came up with the vaccine without a patent because he wants the whole world to get a vaccine as soon as possible and get out of this terrible pandemic. Professor Botachi explained their concerns, saying, “Vaccine inequality continues to create mutations.” The fact that the vaccination rate in rich countries is 76.8%, but in poor countries is only 8.9% is a statistical figure. Africa still has less than 10% coverage. In Nigeria, with a population of over 200 million, the vaccination rate is only 2.5%. Korea has now taken a breather in the supply of vaccines, but if you look around the world, there are still many people who are defenseless and exposed to the coronavirus because there is no vaccine. It was explained that humanity cannot be freed from the horrors of a pandemic because mutations continue to occur as they become infected. It is also something that mankind has experienced enough as it has already been greatly affected by delta mutations and omicron mutations.

In fact, I think this bold idea should have come from decision-making at the government level. The Biden government has also emphasized global vaccination, but is sticking to buying and donating vaccines from US pharmaceutical companies. By the end of this year, the US government will donate one billion doses of the vaccine. To this end, we are still buying vaccines while paying astronomical budgets to vaccine companies. But the problem with this method is something that experts in the United States have repeatedly pointed out. Last year, former CDC Director Tom Frieden also emphasized that Korea should become a vaccine hub because he saw the need for local production in countries other than the United States. Even though mRNA pharmaceutical companies can’t handle the rush of orders, they are in a situation where they hold on to their technology and hide it, emphasizing confidentiality. In fact, Biden was also very much approaching vaccine production as a job issue in the United States. At the Korea-U.S. summit last year, he also made an undisclosed statement that the production of vaccines in the US would increase jobs. Conservatives even preemptively criticized Biden for taking out the latest mRNA technology and giving it to China. However, the supply from Pfizer, Moderna, or mRNA vaccine companies cannot keep up with demand. (On the other hand, it should be remembered that the Indian pharmaceutical company that makes Corbevax plans to produce 100 million doses a month at one location.) In fact, they said they would donate the vaccine to poor countries without any conditions attached, but the vaccine was not available. It seems difficult to deny the intention to show the influence of the United States while giving the vaccine.

Professor Hotez explained that even a rough calculation shows how many vaccines are needed. The number of people who need a vaccine is 3 billion in Africa, 1 billion in sub-Saharan Africa, 1 billion in poor countries in Southeast Asia, and 1 billion in South America and the Caribbean. If you consider the 2 doses, it is just arithmetic that you need at least 6 billion vaccines, and 9 billion vaccines if you consider the boosters. Even if the 1 billion donations that the US government promises to donate by this year plus support from other international organizations are combined, the global vaccine shortage this year is too serious. Professor Hotez pointed out that the mRNA vaccine has worked so well and that its efficacy is not at all problematic, but it is not enough. Because the risk factor for the entire human race is too great to rely solely on mRNA, the old-fashioned vaccine with recombinant protein method must also be mass-produced. The explanation was to make a bus because it is difficult to transport people only with a sports car.

Kim Soo-hyung

An inexpensive, safe, and easy-to-carry ‘old-fashioned vaccine’… Verification is key

Although Corbevax does not have a patent, the production cost is not comparable to other vaccines. Prof Hotez predicted that the vaccine produced in India would cost around $2. Roughly speaking, it is about 1/10 of Pfizer and Moderna. An Indian pharmaceutical company has completed two phase 3 clinical trials involving 3,000 people, and Professor Botachi explained, “It was effective in preventing the corona virus originating in Wuhan by 90% and beta and delta by 80%.” However, the results for Omicron have not been released yet. “Looking at the results for other mutations, we are optimistic about the results for Omicron as well,” said Hotez. In addition, general refrigeration is sufficient, so storage and transportation are convenient, and pharmaceutical companies with protein recombinant technology can produce locally. Prof Botachi said that the number of adverse events reported in India was only half that of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was released under the name Covid Shield in India. Professor Hotez said he did not want to receive the mRNA vaccine in his laboratory, and said that letters are being delivered every day saying that you want to get the vaccine when it is released. In the United States, there is considerable distrust of mRNA, mainly by vaccine conspiracy theorists, but there seem to be people who think that this vaccine is safe. One interesting thing is that some very conservative American media outlets, such as Breit Bart and OAN, often cited as the epicenter of vaccine conspiracy theories, also published positive articles about the vaccine. Progressive media also praised it for being a patent-abandoned vaccine. It is the first time that a vaccine that has been welcomed by the left and right has been released, and Dr. Hotez has even posted a related article on Twitter as a joke.

However, Corbevacs has a limitation that it has been approved for emergency use only in India. Clinical results conducted by Indian pharmaceutical companies have not yet been released, so validation studies have not been conducted among academics. However, since this process is only a matter of time, it is expected that the full data will be released soon. In addition, the International Health Organization (WHO) is in the process of reviewing the usefulness and safety of Corbevax. If the WHO gives an emergency use approval stamp, CorbeVax is expected to be promoted to a vaccine that can be distributed globally once more. Professor Hotez explained that the WHO is in close discussions.

Kim Soo-hyung

“I want a partnership with Korea…to disclose data on the manufacturing process”

I was preparing to ask Hotez and Professor Botachi a question about Korea in the second half, but while talking, Korean stories poured out in the middle. When former CDC director Tom Frieden was interviewing that Korea should become a vaccine hub, he said that his head was full of Korean thoughts, and they seemed to want to talk about Korea too much. Professor Hotez said that Bangladesh, Indonesia and Botswana are also discussing production of Corbevax, and he said very frankly that Korea also wants to participate. Professor Hotez said he was well aware of the high level of science and technology in Korea, and even talked about the names of Korean universities. (It is believed that there are researchers in his laboratory who graduated from undergraduate degrees in Korea.) He emphasized that Korea is special because there are not many countries that can produce vaccines. Prof. Botachi said that if there is any hope among Korean companies, they can provide both research assets as well as information on the manufacturing process. The intention was that if Korea, which has world-class technology, stepped in, it would be a great help to the global vaccine production.

Kim Soo-hyung
I also inquired about Jerome Kim, secretary-general of the International Vaccine Institute, a non-profit international organization headquartered in Korea led by the United Nations Development Organization. Secretary-General Kim was a former professor at the U.S. Army College of Medicine from Yale University, and knew not only the characteristics of vaccines but also vaccine experts in the United States. He replied that recombinant protein vaccines are outdated, so parents can feel at ease when they vaccinate their children, and expect the vaccine to be effective for a longer period of time. He explained that there is room for Korean companies to show interest because of such advantages. Moreover, Korea is in a situation where the government does not spare support for vaccine production with the goal of becoming a global vaccine hub. It is unlikely that it will be a loss-making business to put Corbevax, a protein recombinant method, as one of the various vaccines produced by domestic bio companies. Some domestic experts were cautious about whether some hopefuls would come out of our companies by the time the WHO grants emergency use approval.

Kim Soo-hyung

“Are we going to patent the sun too?…Can Baylor’s team be the 21st century Dr. Soak?

Dr. Jonas Sorke, who launched an unpatented polio vaccine in the 1950s, is a benefactor of mankind. No one is concerned about polio now, but in 1921, 39-year-old President Roosevelt also suffered from polio and was paralyzed from the lower body. With Dr. Sorke’s decision, polio was virtually eradicated, and the Sorak Foundation was established in the United States to honor him as a righteous man. The behavior of Baylor’s team, which abandoned the patent, had many similarities with Dr. Soak. When I asked Professor Hotez, Dr. Soak was a childhood hero, and he explained that a few months before he passed away, he had visited with Professor Botachi for half a day. We talked to each other about our various interests in vaccines at the time, and he said that he still can’t forget that time. After this broadcast aired, a comment was made on them saying, “A hero who imitated a hero when he was young. Now, I hope that there will be another hero who follows him.” There was. Dr. Hotez emphasized that science has a tremendous ability to make the world a better place, and that this is our responsibility. I felt uncomfortable throughout the coverage because science seemed to have turned into a money-making business through a pandemic such as a war, but I was grateful to them for making it clear that the original purpose of science is not to make money, but to make the world a better place.

▶ [단독취재] “I don’t want money”… The first unpatented coronavirus vaccine, why?


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