Unilab confirmed for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing

Published April 16, 2021, 1:50 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Filipino-owned United Laboratories (Unilab), the leading pharmaceutical company in Southeast Asia, has been confirmed to do local vaccine manufacturing in the country starting with the COVID-19 with plans to also export to other ASEAN countries, according to Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez.

In a presentation Wednesday night before President Duterte’s “Talk to the Nation”, Lopez said that if Unilab concludes a partnership with a technology provider by 2022, the Campos-owned company can start operation of a form, fill, and finish plant by 2023.

Photo credit: https://www.unilab.com.ph/

As of April 7 this year, Lopez said “Unilab is confirmed to do local vaccine manufacturing starting with COVID-19.” 

Unilab is among the four pharmaceutical firms that Lopez presented to Duterte, who expressed his desire to establish a vaccine manufacturing facility in the country as his legacy before he steps down from office in June 2022. The three other pharmaceutical firms are Glovax Biologics, IG/IP Biotech, and Dr. Zen Biotech Inc. 

Glovax, a local vaccine distributor in the country, has already signed an agreement with their technology partner Eubiolgics of Korea for local vaccine manufacturing. The company has proposed to locate its P7.5 billion project in Clark. It targets to start operation of a form/fill and finish facility in October 2022.

IG/IP Biotech has also proposed to produce COVID-19 vaccines as well as influenza multivalent vaccines and pneumococal polyvalent vaccines. It seeks a memorandum of understanding with the government’s investment arm National Development Co. and the Board of Investments. It plans to conduct phase 3 clinical trials in the country. 

Dr. Zen Biotech Inc. has a proposal for the production of 2nd generation recombinant vaccine for COVID-19, monoclonal antibodies and general injectables with potential technology providers from India and China. It is also looking for possible partnership with Moderna and J & J.

It has a project cost of $20 million for phase one and another $20 million for the phase 2. The company is also scheduled for a meeting with IP/IG Biotech next week, April 20.

The company has proposed to set up a form/fill facility in the First Bulacan Industrial Estate complete with class 100 biotech sterile R&D. The design and construction of the plant is ongoing and is expected to start operation by 2022.

Lopez also informed Duterte that the vaccine project proponents are requesting for “greenlane” or no red tape in the processing of government permits. “They will subscribe to all requirements and submit documents but they require faster processing,” said Lopez.

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez

In addition, the vaccine manufacturers also require that government will procure their locally produced vaccines, subject to standards, specifications and prices. 

In the same meeting, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato dela Pena reported to the President that they are already meeting with the DTI, Department of Budget and Management, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and Inter Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Diseases Chief Implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. to craft a program for the President’s vaccine manufacturing legacy.

The group came up with a program called “Vaccine Self Reliant Philippines”, which called for the establishment of a Virology Science and Technology Institute. This body will conduct research for new vaccine platform.  The proposed plan though is a Philippine vaccine facility that is not only for humans but also for other viruses that attack livestock and crops such as vaccines against the African Swine Flu.