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Japanese pharma aims to put domestic COVID-19 vaccine to practical use by late 2022

Syringes for coronavirus vaccinations are seen. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- Japanese pharmaceutical firm Daiichi Sankyo Co. has been developing a COVID-19 messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccine and is aiming to put it to practical use in the latter half of 2022, the company's executive told the Mainichi Shimbun on Aug. 2.

    While mRNA vaccines developed by pharmaceutical firms abroad have been put to practical use in Japan, Daiichi Sankyo is the first company to develop one in this country. The pharma started the early stage of clinical trials in Japan in March, and plans to begin the final stage of the tests on several thousand people by the end of 2021.

    Although Daiichi Sankyo wants to conduct tests to compare the number of neutralizing antibodies with overseas vaccines that have already been put to practical use, Masayuki Yabuta, managing executive officer and head of the company's biologics unit, pointed out that the firm "cannot secure them without the central government's support" because the government is buying up all the foreign inoculations. Furthermore, the company may also conduct some clinical trials overseas as it is not easy to gather several thousand test subjects domestically while there are effective vaccines available.

    As inoculations with foreign-made vaccines are expected to progress in Japan this year, domestic shots will possibly be utilized as a booster immunization from 2022. Therefore, Yabuta explained that it will be necessary to conduct the clinical trials to confirm the effect of additional vaccinations among those who have already been inoculated.

    Based on the fact that mRNA vaccines developed by U.S. firms often cause side effects such as a fever and require strict storage conditions such as freezing, Yabuta emphasized that Daiichi Sankyo is "focusing primarily on developing a better vaccine."

    Regarding the urgent pharmaceutical approval system, which the Japanese government is set to start discussions on reviewing, Yabuta pointed out that conventional procedures take too much time, saying, "Though ensuring safety is a major priority, perhaps there should be cases in which drugs are approved 'with conditions' and their effectiveness and other aspects are reviewed after they debut on the market."

    (Japanese original by Ai Yokota, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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