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#MakeHistory: Highlighting History | South Korea

April 18, 2018
With the conclusion of the Winter Olympics earlier this year in South Korea, the pomp and circumstances in Pyeongchang were certainly emblematic of the country’s place as an influencer on the global stage. However, the country has focused on more than winter sports these last few years. They have also developed a golden biotech industry focused on strong commercialization and global partnerships. With roughly 5% of the country’s GDP spent on R&D, the industry breakdown consists of 34% in the human health. The industry’s rapid growth is nowhere more apparent than at the BIO International Convention.

With the second largest International Delegation at the BIO International Convention, the delegation is over 700 strong- third only in size to the United States and Canada. With this consistent momentum, South Korea has made an impactful presence both on BIO’s vast exhibition floor and, more importantly, the global stage.

But Korea’s impact has been decades in the making. Over the past 25 years, multi-ministerial coordination and the realignment of industrial systems to facilitate R&D have bolstered the country to be a leading developer in the region.

Early on the Korean government designated biotechnology as a key component of the country’s development strategy in the early 1980s laying the groundwork for the industry’s solid foundation. But nothing was a bigger turning point in South Korea’s biotech history than The Basic Plan for the Promotion of Biotechnology in 1994. Despite its name, this plan was anything but basic. This national biotechnology plan shifted the tide for the country’s competitive edge. Since putting forth the Basic Plan for the Promotion of Biotechnology, government investment has increased at an average rate of over 24% annually until 2008.

This significant investment in R&D yielded powerful results. By 2004, there were over 500 South Korean companies using biotechnology in their businesses. Within these companies, there also was an interest to shift from producing generic branded drugs to increased focus on new drug discovery.

Just when we thought there couldn’t be more investment, in 2006, the South Korean government established Bio-Vision 2016, which set the goal of making the country a global biotechnology leader. The benefits of this policy were immediate. Within a year, the country’s Technology Strength (TS) index ranking improved to no. 13 in 2007, showing immediate improvement from no. 17 between 1998 and 2001. Effects of the policy also shifted industry towards regenerative medicine research, growing their medical devices industry, and expanding R&D capacity.

In March 2012, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) was established, and with it both countries agreed to provisions to facilitate high-quality health care and improve access to safe and effective innovative and generic pharmaceutical products. Implementation of KORUS has led to various policy improvements, including regulatory data protection and intellectual property enforcement, although there remain strong concerns on South Korea’s implementation of its intellectual property rights and pricing and reimbursement commitments.

With the strengthening industrial capacity and growing support from local associations, South Korea developed a balanced regional and national system that supported biotech clusters throughout the country. These established hubs became epicenters of innovation with a goal of making regional economic development self-sustaining and self-reliant.

This environment propelled the biotech industry to what it is today. South Korea is one of the most aggressive countries in the region for the development of biosimilars, with the government setting an ambitious goal of providing 22% of global biosimilars supply by 2020. That said, ask anyone in the pharma business in South Korea what’s next? The overwhelming answer would be: expanding global partnerships and making the country a global hub of biotechnology.

BIO recognizes that global collaborations are critical to not only South Korea’s success, but also to those of global stakeholders seeking investment and licensing partners in country. To learn more how South Korea continues to make history, visit the South Korean Pavilion booths 2955 and 2949 at the upcoming BIO International Convention, June 4-7, 2018 in Boston!