The Jakarta Post
Indonesian policymakers are not putting the nation’s healthcare eggs in one basket. The country has chosen to partner with multiple producers to develop potential COVID-19 vaccines, while leveraging its role as one of Southeast Asia’s leading medical manufacturers.
The continuing rise of COVID-19 infections has sent the international community into a vaccine procurement frenzy as the death toll creeps towards 650,000 globally.
Instead of competing with other countries to corner the market, Indonesia has thrown itself into multiple collective endeavors to find – and then manufacture – a viable vaccine.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Thursday that Indonesia had both short- and long-term plans for vaccine development.
“The short-term strategy is to collaborate with several countries and other partners to secure access to [potential] vaccines already being developed, while the long-term strategy is to be self-sufficient by getting involved in vaccine development under the national consortium,” she told reporters in Jakarta.
To achieve these short-term goals, Indonesian diplomats have been seeking out opportunities for cooperation with producers such as Sinovac Biotech of China, Genexine Inc. of South Korea and the Bill Gates-backed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
State-owned pharmaceutical company PT Bio Farma has partnered with Sinovac on an inactivated virus vaccine and is discussing cooperation with the CEPI, while homegrown health giant Kalbe Farma is cooperating with Genexine on a DNA vaccine.
Inactivated vaccines are made from microorganisms such as viruses that have been neutralized through physical or chemical processes.
Such vaccines may not always induce a long-lasting immune response – or any response at all – meaning people may need multiple doses over time.
DNA vaccines, on the other hand, are a relatively recent invention. They tend to be more stable and provide longer-term immunity, while remaining easy and inexpensive to produce.
“We have all these collaborations running in parallel so that we can get the fastest possible access to the [potential] vaccines,” Retno said.
Sinovac is one of five manufacturers leading the global drive for vaccine development. A possible vaccine produced by the company is entering its third phase of human clinical trials. It was one of 166 vaccine candidates under consideration.
Retno said that Indonesia’s Ambassador in Beijing, Djauhari Oratmangun, had been in conversation with Sinovac since late May and had visited the company’s development facility to meet CEO Weidong Yin – the first foreign ambassador in China to do so since the pandemic swept the globe.
That meeting paved the way for cooperation between Biofarma and Sinovac, both of which are set to conduct phase 3 trials of the potential vaccine in Bandung, West Java, later this month.
The vaccine will be trialed by Padjadjaran University and the Health Ministry's research and development agency and will involve nearly 1,600 volunteers.
The preliminary results of this trial may be submitted for emergency use authorization to the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) by the first quarter of 2021, according to Bio Farma.
Retno said there had been close coordination between the Health Ministry, Biofarma, the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) and the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology to ensure that Indonesia was prepared to mass-produce vaccines.
“The Foreign Ministry will continue to support and oversee this process, including the delivery of bulk vaccines needed for vaccine technology transfer and production in Indonesia, which we aim to begin in the first quarter of 2021,” she said.
The hunt for a vaccine has created a world of dueling potential vaccines and geopolitical battles over who will get supplies. The United States, western Europe and China have all ramped up research and set up supply chains for the production of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, while other countries, such as India or Russia, claim to be just months away from a working product.
Indonesia is teaming up with other countries to circumvent some of this competition.
Commenting on the Biofarma-Sinovac endeavor, Retno said the collaboration was “equal and mutual”. As the largest vaccine producer in Southeast Asia, Biofarma currently has an annual production capacity of 100 million doses of the potential vaccine.
“We are currently ramping up vaccine production to 250 million vaccine doses per year so that when we have fulfilled domestic demand, Indonesia will also be able to supply the vaccine to the world,” she said.
The ministry will fast-track and facilitate the arrival of European experts in Indonesia to assist in reaching the production target, she added.
In addition to the Biofarma-Sinovac initiative, Indonesian Ambassador to South Korea Umar Hadi is facilitating cooperation between Kalbe Farma and Genexine.
Under this partnership, phase two clinical trials for a possible vaccine will begin in Indonesia in September or October, continuing from the phase one trials underway in South Korea until August.
The parties are still discussing the number of samples to be brought to phase two trials, among other arrangements, Retno said.
Indonesia’s Ambassador to Norway, Todung Mulya Lubis, helped Biofarma submit a cooperation proposal in April to become one of the CEPI’s vaccine production partners.
“At present, Biofarma has been included on the shortlist of potential manufacturers for the CEPI COVID-19 vaccine,” the minister said.
For the longer term, Indonesia is developing a potential recombinant protein subunit vaccine using local coronavirus strains through the national consortium for COVID-19 vaccine development.
This method seeks to anticipate potential mutations of the virus, which may render vaccines developed in other countries using different strains useless – a concern that epidemiologists have raised in previous months.
Retno said the government had appointed the Eijkman Institute to lead the vaccine development program through the consortium, which includes the Health Ministry's Research and Development Agency (Balitbangkes), Bio Farma and several universities.