Preparing for next pandemic, Korea's SK pumps $261M into vaccine R&D site

SK bioscience has taken a look at the receding COVID-19 vaccine market and its own stuttering effort to win market share and decided to double down, outlining plans to invest $261 million in a R&D hub designed to establish it as a leading force in the global response to new infectious diseases.

In November, SK bioscience shared details of its new growth strategy, including plans to establish itself as a global vaccine and biotech company by investing in next-generation vaccine technologies alongside cell and gene therapies. The South Korean company put the planned global research and process development center in Songdo, a so-called smart city 18 miles from Seoul, at the heart of the strategy.

Now, SK bioscience has revealed what it will cost to establish the Songdo site. Having previously invested $33 million in the project, the biotech has now dialed up its total outlay to $261 million to support the creation of a vaccine/biopharmaceutical hub on the 320,000-square-foot site.

Completion is scheduled for the first half of 2025. Once the site is ready, SK bioscience will relocate its headquarters and R&D operation to Songdo, giving its researchers access to technologies designed to help the company preemptively respond to emerging infectious diseases. 

“The establishment of the R&PD Center will be a crucial milestone for us to advance the entire vaccine and biopharmaceutical industry beyond Korea to the world. We will ultimately organize the 'Dream Team' of the global health network to protect a safe tomorrow for people around the world,” Jaeyong Ahn, CEO of SK bioscience, said in a statement.  

SK bioscience outlined plans to transplant its technologies to other countries at an event last month. The Songdo statement provides additional details, revealing that through its “Open Lab” the biotech will form “collaborations such as manpower training for other countries which do not have enough research capacities but high demand for vaccine development.”

Management is betting big on the Songdo facility despite its sales crashing from the pandemic-boosted peak. SK bioscience manufactured COVID-19 vaccines for AstraZeneca and Novavax, but, with contracts ending or shrinking, operating profits fell 76% last year. The biotech is looking to its own vaccines to drive growth, but COVID-19 shot SKYCovione arrived too late in the pandemic to make a big impact in Korea.