Industry and government failures behind Japan’s slow COVID-19 vaccine progress

Industry and government failures behind Japan’s slow COVID-19 vaccine progress

Japan’s development of COVID-19 vaccines is far behind that of global rivals.

With the general public unlikely to have access to Japan-made vaccines until 2022, industry sources say reasons include a failure by the nation to address problems such as a lack of consolidation within the pharmaceutical industry and the sheltering of relatively small Japanese firms from international competition.

This week the U.K. became the first Western country to begin inoculating its citizens with a commercially available COVID-19 vaccine. The same day, biotech startup AnGes Inc. — Japan’s front-runner, which has teamed up with Takara Bio Inc. and Osaka University — announced it had started a mid- to late-stage clinical trial of its DNA-based vaccine involving 500 healthy adults at eight facilities in the nation.

A total of 52 vaccine candidates were in clinical evaluation worldwide as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization, of which the one under development by AnGes was the only Japanese contender. Other candidate vaccines under development in the nation are still in preclinical evaluation.

Though U.S. pharmaceutical firms Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. and U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca PLC have developed vaccine candidates in under a year, it is unlikely that Japanese vaccines will be made available to the general public until 2022, says Dr. Tetsuo Nakayama, a project professor at Kitasato Institute for Life Sciences and director of the Japanese Society of Clinical Virology.