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Korea can benchmark Philadelphia’s rise as ‘Cellicon Valley’: experts
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2019.06.18 13:42
  • Updated 2019.06.18 13:42
  • comments 0

Anticipation for the Korean biohealth industry is growing amid multinational drugmaker AstraZeneca’s promise to invest $630 million in the nation’s biotech and healthcare sector over the next five years. Earlier, the government vowed to nurture the sector as one of the three core industries for national growth.

To yield fruitful results with limited resources in the biotech industry, however, the government would do better to provide strategic support, experts said at a debate at the National Assembly on Monday.

Rep. Yoon Il-kyu of the ruling Democratic Party organized the debate on how to drive the nation into a global biotech power in the bioeconomy era.

Lee Myong-hwa (left), head of the National R&D Research Office at Science and Technology Policy Institute, and Lee Chan-keun, a professor at Incheon National University, speak during a debate at the National Assembly, on Monday.

Lee Myong-hwa, head of the National R&D Research Office at Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), explained how much the U.S. cell and gene therapy developers have made progress, as shown during the recent BIO International Convention (BIO USA) 2019 held in Philadelphia in early June.

“Philadelphia-based gene therapy company Spark Therapeutics, which Roche intends to acquire for $4.3 billion, grew rapidly. In just six years, the number of employees went up from five in 2013 to more than 400 now,” Lee said. “As seen in the BIO USA 2019, the global market is paying keen attention to gene and cell therapies.”

Lee noted that Philadelphia was using a variety of strategies to become “Cellicon Valley,” a coined term using California’s high-tech hub Silicon Valley.

“Philadelphia established educational institutions to bring up biotech professionals and provided production processing to help companies put ideas into practice. Philadelphia is building a positive business environment to make itself a specialized city for gene and cell therapies,” she said.

Lee suggested several ideas for better biotech support: diversification of open innovation beyond information exchange and investment attraction, a swift overhaul of the licensing system for biopharmaceutical products, diversification of R&D support not only for new drug development but localization of subsidiary materials for biopharmaceutical manufacturing, training of professionals, and strengthening of the policy coordination among 14 government agencies.

Lee Chan-keun, a professor at Incheon National University (INU), emphasized that the government should make use of Korea’s strength in production-based growth in the biotech sector.

Korea has a competitive edge in the biopharmaceutical industry with Celltrion developing the world’s first antibody biosimilar and Samsung BioLogics having the world’s largest capacity to manufacture biosimilars, according to Lee. The nation is ahead of Japan, China, and Singapore in the sector, he said.

INU’s Lee noted that contract manufacturing of multinational pharmaceuticals would significantly expand from 15 percent to 50 percent, as they tend to use contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) for existing blockbuster drugs.

“As Korea has accumulated experiences in semiconductors and displays, the nation is competent in CMO business,” he said.

If companies expand their CMO business into new drug development and make entry into the contract development organization (CDO) business, they will be able to form a cluster that leads biotech ventures and contract research organizations (CRO), he added.


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