(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 6-7, last 8 paras)
By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, Aug. 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korean drugmaker SK Bioscience Co. has won an approval to conduct the phase three clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, drug authorities said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said GBP510, under development by SK Bioscience, a unit of the country's No. 2 family-controlled conglomerate SK Group, is the country's first indigenous vaccine candidate to enter the last phase of clinical trial.

The clinical trial will compare GBP510 against the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, the ministry said. It marks the second time in the world for such a comparison trial to be conducted.

The clinical trial will be simultaneously held in different countries by injecting the vaccine candidate in some 3,000 participants.

SK Bioscience aims to produce an interim result of its clinical trial during the first quarter of next year before seeking final approval.

The vaccine candidate is a recombinant-protein vaccine based on novel two-component nanoparticles that can maximize the immune effect.

The candidate was jointly developed with the University of Washington Antigen Design Research Institute.

Earlier, the government said it will strengthen support for homegrown COVID-19 vaccine development so that candidates can enter late-stage phase three clinical trials by the end of the year.

The government said it is also considering purchasing homegrown COVID-19 vaccines upon the interim findings of second phase clinical trials or approval of phase three clinical trials.

There are currently seven local companies, including SK Bioscience, that are developing multiple types of COVID-19 vaccines.

Genexine's DNA-based vaccine is in a phase two trial, and Geneone Life Science is in a phase one trial for its DNA-based vaccine.

South Korea has been weathering the fourth wave of the pandemic due to a surge in virus cases in the greater Seoul area.

The country added 1,540 COVID-19 cases, including 1,476 local infections, raising the total caseload to 213,987, according to health authorities.

Since the country launched its vaccination program in late February, 21.37 million people, or 41.6 percent of the country's 51.3 million population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines.

Around 15.4 percent, or 7.89 million people, have been fully vaccinated, according to the authorities.

The country has secured more than 100 million doses of vaccines, such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca, enough to vaccinate its 51.3 million population, but has suffered some glitches in receiving vaccines on time.

The country aims to administer a single vaccination shot to 36 million people, or 70 percent of its population, by September with hopes of reaching herd immunity in November.



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