Turkey's 1st national COVID vaccine 'turned science into technology'

Head of Health Institutes of Turkey comments on development of Turkovac.

Turkey's 1st national COVID vaccine 'turned science into technology'

Turkey's first inactive COVID-19 vaccine, Turkovac, has begun Phase 3 studies with the vaccination of volunteers. 

The vaccine was developed jointly by Erciyes University and the Health Ministry with scientific and financial assistance from the Health Institutes of Turkey (TUSEB) as well as several stakeholders and the efforts of devoted scientists.

All stages of the vaccine development process --- including the scientific infrastructure, technology, research and development, and final product -- will belong to Turkey.

- 'Phase 3 study to continue with over 40,800 volunteers'

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Erhan Akdogan, the head of TUSEB, said nearly 900,000 people have volunteered so far to take part in the vaccination studies through an online application and 40,822 of them with the eligible medical conditions were selected.

Noting that TUSEB started funding and supporting vaccine projects as of March 2020 following the coronavirus outbreak, Akdogan said a total of seven projects were being supported now and the process is ongoing.

In addition, according to Akdogan, TUSEB played an active role in the establishment of COVID-19 diagnosis centers, with over 400 personnel still operating at 20 such centers.

Turkovac is the result of great effort as more than 200 people were involved in its development, according to the Turkish official, who said that 40 volunteers took part in the Phase 1 studies and 250 others in Phase 2.

He further noted that the recruitment of volunteers was held via the online E-Nabiz system of the Turkish Health Ministry, perhaps a first in the world in terms of an approach based on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) which eliminated some of the volunteers in a bid to find the best candidates, adding the remaining candidates were chosen manually following the use of AI.

Noting that the studies would be held in 30 centers and Phase 3 studies could also be held abroad in countries such as Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, Akdogan further said that Turkey was in contact with some countries in this regard and the vaccine could get emergency use approval if essential requirements were met at the end of the scientific studies.

"Producing scientific information and transforming it into technology is of great importance," he said, adding scientists would define "today's science" as the "technology of tomorrow."

"So we have reached a [phase of] technology, and I am proud, happy to give this good news to our nation," he said, adding the process was ongoing with the collaboration of multiple organizations and institutions.

According to Akdogan, Turkey, which made significant progress in recent years in the field of the defense industry, used the same amount of concentration to make progress in the health field and the country's strong health ecosystem meant Turkey had no trouble in gathering scientific information.