The global pandemic is not only a threat to public health, but also devastating on the global economy. After the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 in 2020, the need for vaccines and medicines has not been met. However, no effective medicines have appeared. Fortunately, the development of vaccines has shed light on an end of the global pandemic. 1
Vaccine development, due to this Covid-19 global pandemic, has been changed dramatically, not only based on previous techniques, but also enhanced new technology application. Countries compete their techniques, production capacity, only hope to flatten the curve, reopen the nation’s gateway, and recover the normal life. Whether Taiwan possesses these vaccine techniques, or obtains the authorization to reproduce effective vaccines are crucial. Furthermore, whether we can catch-up the timeline for emergency use application, or start to receive orders from the global market are critical. The vaccine diplomacy would again outstand Taiwan from its well-performed Covid-19 containment, gaining more ground in the global political field. Therefore, biotechnology in this post-pandemic era would play a key role. 2
In the past, the cumbersome steps of the FDA and other countries’ medical-related equipment certification may be the biggest obstacle to the biomedical industry. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a threat to public health at a global level, it has also accelerated the development of new vaccines and medical equipment. 3
The maintenance of public health has many dimensions. The medical community has proposed other ways to maintain public health besides vaccines, one of the projects being preventive medicine with biodesign. For example, disinfectant spray or masks that can isolate or even kill viruses before to prevent a direct contact from the virus to the human body. However, vaccines have a long history in human society as an epidemic prevention tool. Its validity is widely recognized. Whether the preventive public health products of new biodesign can outperform vaccination is in doubt. We will need experimental and clinical evidence to know the efficacy of biodesigned preventive public health products. If the biodesigned preventive products can be used simultaneously with vaccination, it will be more promising to achieve global public health in the post-pandemic era. 4
In Taiwan, for example, the collaboration of the biomedical industry and academy needs to move forward. The National Health Institutes and Academia Sinica both have the capability of developing effective vaccines. The nano-vaccines developed by the Institute of Biomedical Science are excellent considering their safety and effectiveness. However, some vaccines or reagents seem to have no follow-ups when they come to the stage of clinical trials. Therefore, promoting Taiwan’s industry-academic cooperation is essential to the development of biomedical science. Since the establishment of the National Biotechnology Research Park in Taiwan has provided a good environment, the government should support more biotech teams of great potential for the future. 5
In the future, major biomedicine factories will operate independently in terms of technology and look for other manufacturers to expand production capacity. In contrast, small factories that are comparatively behind in the competition must find their own strategic positions and look for cooperative opportunities to seek breakthroughs in the development of vaccines.
Domestic vaccine production in Taiwan’s vaccine industry leans toward protein sub-units. However, Taiwan is a border disease prevention and control country facing community infection risks, so third-phase clinical trial data can be hard to obtain, and it is also difficult to say whether future international vaccine passport agreements would include Taiwan. Therefore, it is essential to cooperate with other countries with their domestic vaccines in trial phases, buy time, jointly find international test sites, and obtain data through certification. These are also transnational biotechnology cooperation agendas.
Taiwan’s other advantage is its ability to provide improved production processes that could help it to secure a meaningful place in the vaccine international supply chain and contribute to the fight against the global pandemic. 6
Vaccine strategies and technologies vary from country to country. The first mRNA vaccine produced in response to the epidemic was initially an anti-cancer technology, but now it is deployed against COVID-19. It is both a commercial and an academic breakthrough. The mRNA serves as a message, and when the host receives the injection, the ribosomes of the cells can produce viral proteins according to the recipes. In this way, the vaccine triggers an immune response and produces antibodies. When a virus strikes, antibodies can effectively protect the human body and reduce harm. Because the mRNA itself is extremely unstable, it needs to be transported in an extremely low-temperature environment, which increases the uncertainty, which is why no mRNA vaccine has been seen in the past. However, heroes are made during extraordinary times, and mRNA vaccines have played an essential role in this epidemic. The promotion of the epidemic has also stimulated continuous innovation of mRNA vaccines, transforming more stable vaccines, and even ordinary household refrigerators can store vaccines well, making it even more convenient to transport and distribute. 7
The diversification of future mRNA vaccine development is a direction worth anticipating as vaccines become a buyer’s market. Taiwan has its own technology, and it can also acquire technical know-how by engaging in contract manufacturing practices, supplying firms with expanded production capacities, and acquiring the necessary technologies in the process. 8
#the inequality of the vaccine distribution and a competition among the new variants and herd immunity.
It’s very likely that COVID-19 is going to fluctuate and become a seasonal disease that coexists with humans. The development of vaccines and the subsequent unified distribution become more and more important because they will help reduce the level of threat of the periodic mutation of COVID-19. 9
The manufacturing and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine cannot be done in the best interest of reaching global immunity because of the patents acquired by pharmacies, resulting in the prolongation of the pandemic. This can, in effect, increase the possibility of mutation, which may render the previously developed vaccine ineffective. Therefore, Taiwanese biotechnological companies should develop in the direction of high flexibility (perhaps not the spike protein since it’s one of the most varied parts) during the research process, so can we adjust to new variation at any time.
This pandemic serves as a lesson for international governments and organizations. They should invest more capital in prevention of future pandemic, especially regulate big pharmacies from paying too much attention to their own business interest but not effective treatments. 10
Taiwan achieved concrete results in public health security and epidemic prevention in the early stages of the COVID crisis, leading to a significant boost to its international image. However, success in later stages of the crisis hinges upon vaccine research and development, which would require the injection of government funds and material support to maintain Taiwan’s hard-won international image. 11
There is a strong correlation between past hurdles hindering the development of Taiwan’s biomedical industry and the lack of government support. Mass-planting biomedical departments cannot resolve the issue in universities. The government should draw up relevant budgets to support biomedical factories and related industries. Well-planned industry-university collaborative frameworks are the key for Taiwan to progress in vaccine and pharmaceutical research and development. 12
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