The Ministry of Science and Technology on Tuesday announced that COVID-19 researchers can apply for free access to Taiwan’s newest supercomputer, the Taiwania 3 (台灣杉三號). This is a great opportunity for Taiwan’s biotechnology sector, and something in which the government should invest more to help make the nation a hub for research into and the production of vaccines, antiviral medications and other biotechnologies.
A News Corp Australia article published online on Dec. 14 last year said that IBM provided researchers with free access to 25 of its supercomputers for researching SARS-CoV-2. IBM said in a statement that its Summit supercomputer “has already enabled researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to screen 8,000 compounds to find those that are most likely to bind to the main ‘spike’ protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells.”
Taiwan’s computer technology strengths are well known worldwide. Taiwan should leverage its chip capabilities to bolster its emerging biotechnology sector. Although local companies have made strides in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, one remains unavailable. Instead, Taiwan has had to rely on outside sources for vaccine purchases and donations, and is in the process of buying antiviral medications from the US to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Taiwan News reported on Sunday last week that a local vaccine being developed at Academia Sinica has been shown to be 2.7 percent more effective against variants of SARS-CoV-2 than other vaccines.
Taiwan has faced challenges obtaining drugs and information related to the pandemic due to its lack of WHO membership and pressure from China. If Taiwan were to make advances in COVID-19 research and drug development, it could not only be self-reliant, but also a source of medicine and research for other countries — which would make arguments for its inclusion in the WHO much more compelling.
Countries such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea have, much like Taiwan, done well in keeping infection rates comparatively low, but have been slow in vaccinating their populations. A BBC report from April 21 said that Australia had only vaccinated 1.6 million people out of a population of 25 million. “Supply shortages and delivery problems have been blamed for the delays,” the report said.
“South Korea has inoculated 7.1 million people, or 13.8 percent of its 52 million population, with at least one dose since it began the vaccination campaign,” Reuters reported on Friday last week.
Japan has so far vaccinated about 5 percent of its population, which a Washington Post opinion piece on May 5 said was likely due to the country’s slow and complex approval process for medications.
Advances in biotechnology could allow Taiwan to help alleviate vaccine and medication supply issues. Taiwan could consider working with Japanese researchers to jointly develop vaccines for future diseases and pandemics, which would help overcome the approval hurdles faced by vaccine manufacturers in other countries.
Japanese drugmaker Shionogi last month said that it hopes to produce a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, and Japan’s Fugaku supercomputer was upgraded last year, solidifying its status as the fastest in the world. These developments would make Japan an ideal partner for biotechnology research.
The government should seek to capitalize on the nation’s computer technology strengths to make it a leader in biotechnology. In a future pandemic, Taiwan could be at the forefront of vaccine development and disease treatment.
Early on Sunday morning, Taipei welcomed three US senators on a brief stopover during a tour of the Indo-Pacific region. Although Tammy Duckworth, Dan Sullivan and Chris Coons were only in Taiwan for about three hours, their presence made an outsized impact, as they appeared to personally announce a US donation of 750,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to help Taiwan reach the other side of the pandemic. While some, including a reporter at a Central Epidemic Command Center news conference on Sunday, have said the amount was small compared with expectations, it is actually a significant contribution and a resounding gesture of
On Monday last week, a formation of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) warplanes flew over the South China Sea near Malaysian Borneo and intruded into the airspace of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. Although it was not the first incursion into Malaysian airspace by Chinese military aircraft, it was the first time such a large formation had been dispatched by China. It was yet another worrying indication that Beijing senses an opportunity to aggressively shape the post-COVID-19 world in its own image and has stepped up its plans to expand the frontiers of its empire well beyond the limits of its
With Taiwan’s COVID-19 “ring of steel” breached, the public is demanding vaccines, and politicians are calling for vaccine imports to be expedited. However, the manner in which the debate is being conducted leaves much to be desired. Some people believe that companies and nonprofit groups should be allowed to import vaccines. This is not as simple as it sounds. The mRNA vaccines made by Moderna and BioNTech need to be stored at extremely low temperatures during their transportation from overseas manufacturing plants to the clinics that administer them. Regarding the BioNTech vaccine, its export from the EU requires complex paperwork and procedures.