DUBAI, March 26 : Saudi Arabia is developing a halal coronavirus vaccine that could be ready within a year, according to local biopharmaceutical company SaudiVax.
“The development of a COVID-19 vaccine is being done at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, and they are in the late stage of the discovery phase,” said Dr. Mazen Hassanain, managing director of SaudiVax, a local private company collaborating on the project.
We hope the vaccine will be on the market in the Middle East in a year, though that relies on many factors,” said Dr. Hassanain, who is also a professor of surgery at King Saud University in Riyadh, in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya English.
The vaccine industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East at-large, lacks development and manufacturing components – the two steps of the vaccine process that follow the discovery phase.
Dr. Hassanain said SaudiVax is “working very hard to fill the gap,” by building a facility for vaccine development and manufacturing that will likely be fully operational in two years. Supported by multiple government sectors, the facility intends to train Saudi citizens on vaccine development and manufacturing.
In the meantime the Saudi Arabian coronavirus vaccination team can outsource the next steps in vaccination development.
“Development can be done partially in Saudi Arabia and the rest can be outsourced, most commonly in the United States,” said Dr. Hassanain. “Usually vaccine development is collaborative and can be done between countries.”
SaudiVax is also successfully working on a collaboration with an entity in the US to develop a therapeutic for COVID-19 that also should be available within a year.
In the development of vaccines, scientists use live cells that need nutrients to live and survive. These nutrients could include elements that are not considered halal – which means permissible under Islamic law – for example ingredients derived from pigs like gelatin. Pork is forbidden for Muslims to consume.
The COVID-19 vaccine being discovered in Saudi Arabia will be certified halal, which should ease hesitancy from Muslim populations who may have religious concerns about a vaccine.
Being the heartland of Islam and a G20 country, Saudi Arabia has many reasons to spearhead a coronavirus vaccine, as well as its vaccine industry, according to Dr. Hassanain.
“We want to be proactive in situations like this. The COVID-19 vaccine initiative is a good trial. if it comes on time, it’s perfect. If not, it is good experience,” said Dr. Hassanain.
“Because we have Muslim visitors coming from around the world for hajj and umrah we are responsible for global health in a way,” added Dr. Hassanain. Hajj and umrah are Islamic pilgrimages to the sacred Kaaba in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Since its inception in 2016, SaudiVax has rallied both the public and private sectors in the country around growing the local vaccine development and manufacturing industry. The company has especially benefited from the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to diversify the economy and develop programs to benefit its citizens.
“With the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, we successfully managed to establish the Saudi vaccine and biomedical center,” said Dr. Hassanain. “As a G20 country, this is expected from us, to be leading in this productivity.”