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[Doctors with Patents] ‘Convergence needed to bolster Korean biomedical competitiveness’Song Si-young fosters public-private sector collaboration for innovative therapies
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2018.05.01 07:46
  • Updated 2018.06.25 07:59
  • comments 0

Song Si-young, dean of Yonsei University College of Medicine, physician, and researcher, stressed clinicians, government officials, and industry personnel to work together towards discovering new therapies for a globally competitive Korea.

Song, as a medical doctor who specializes in pancreatic and biliary cancer, emphasized, in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, that convergence of the hospital, government, and industry is essential for making progress in treating fatal diseases, although it may take time.

Song Si-young, dean of Yonsei University College of Medicine, stresses the importance of convergence between the government, industry, and hospital for progress and development in the medical sector in a recent interview with Korea Biomedical Review at his office in Seoul.

He noted that not much progress had been made in pancreatic or biliary cancers despite their highest mortality rates for several years.

“As a physician, I felt more like a court judge who had to give a sentence to patients with pancreatic cancers,” Song said, recalling his younger years. “Most patients and their families asked me, ‘Will they completely recover from this fatal disease?” or ‘How long will he or she live?’”

To these questions, Song said he had to give a prognosis of around five to nine months in the past, which frustrated and disappointed him. But it also served as a motivation for him to improve the status quo. In 1999, Song developed a gastrointestinal capsule endoscope, a self-locomotive camera that passes through the small intestine and sends around 60,000 images to a small data recorder that allows real-time imaging and finally to outside the body.

Song also obtained many patents about novel pancreatic and biliary cancer biomarkers and continued his research in genomic analysis. Despite his achievements, Song noted that getting patents and research and development was not enough.

“Making money was never my interest. However, we needed commercially available products to solve clinical problems such as improving patient survival and preventing fatal diseases. That required business development,” Song said. “In reality, R&D is not enough – R&BD - or research and business development, became important.”

With this mindset, Song worked with the industry not only to bring his patented works to the market but also bring works of other clinicians to the market by creating an environment conducive to regulatory forms. According to Song, business development thrives in an atmosphere of sharing and co-development among various parties such as the university, hospital, government, industry and the funder.

“Having all these groups work together and reducing time to product development from 20 to 15 years is my purpose,” Song said.

Song has played a central role in this, serving as the director of the Industry-Academy Cooperation Foundation, director of the Office of Medical Science Research Affairs at Yonsei University Health Systems, chairman of the Department of Gastroenterology at Severance Hospital, and chairman of the Policy Deliberative Committee for Health and Medical Service Technology under the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

As the bridge between the public and private sector, Song noted that fostering cooperation between the public and private sector as well as the internal departments at Yonsei University became one of his top priorities.

Getting different parties to work together, Song said, helps bolster the competitiveness of Korean medicine on an international stage. To achieve this goal, Song primarily drove progress in two areas: creating innovative “convergent” workforce and creating an environment of convergence.

Innovative convergent personnel, according to Song, can be created through a medical education system that allows students to dabble in other related fields such as engineering, business, and social science. By doing so, these medical doctors become able to bring innovative new developments to medicine that pushes the boundaries of the status quo.

Song has worked ceaselessly in this area, creating programs that allow pre-med students to take up to 15 units of another science including economics, big data, and engineering among others.

To create an environment of convergence, Song created the Healthcare Technology Acceleration And Commercialization (HTAAC) program that invited researchers, scientists, and investors who have had success in the healthcare market to provide lectures for students at Yonsei’s medical school.

Ultimately, his work in various job posts in both the public and private sector is bound together by one word: convergence. As a notable example, Song was one of the central figures who pushed for the idea of research-driven hospitals.

“I was one of the government’s primary strategic developers of research-driven hospitals in Korea,” Song said. “During that time my whole efforts were devoted to how to merge industry and academia.”

It was also during this time that Song became the first person to create an Intellectual Property Day at domestic medical school to invite industry-side researchers and funders to purchase patents from researchers.

“Nowadays, more than 200 intellectual property rights at the college of medicine are sold to the industry every year. That’s remarkable,” Song said. “That means during the last eight years, more than 1,500 IPs from the college of medicine were sold to the industry, with sales increasing each year.”

According to Song, Yonsei had more than 35 industry-academia collaborations in the past year, signaling a “remarkable” change in Korea. To keep the momentum going, Song stressed the importance of a global outlook to strengthen Korea’s IP and biomedical sector.

“Every healthcare related firm and organization should be thinking about global entrepreneurship whether its scientists, business, or government personnel,” Song said, noting that Korea has a small domestic market that cannot be sustainable for growth.

Regarding his medical school students, Song stressed the diversity of career paths.

“We graduate more than 3,000 medical students annually. I want around 80 to 90 percent to remain clinicians and for them to do their best whether they work in a university hospital or the private sector,” Song said. “But the remaining 10 to 20 percent, I hope they get another job aside from a medical doctor. Nowadays a lot of young medical doctors go into different fields such as venture capital, IT, government, and media, among others.”

“Around 12 Nobel Prize winners in medicine in the U.S. were Ph.Ds. who had a medical background that went onto do basic research and discover something new in fields such as physiology or pharmacology. I want that for my students,” he said.


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