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[Column]‘BIO 2017’ revealed Korean government’s absence of policyDr. Song's medbiz column
  • By Song Hyoung-gon
  • Published 2017.06.29 15:38
  • Updated 2017.11.09 14:25
  • comments 0

I attended the “2017 BIO International Convention” held in San Diego, Calif., from June 19-23. This event, the 24th annual conference hosted by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), is the world’s largest bio industry conference along with J.P. Morgan’s Healthcare Conference. More than 1,800 companies and 16,000 people from 76 countries attended it. About 300 Koreans officials representing 100-odd businesses and government agencies also took part in the event.

I was curious about the nature of the event since it was the first overseas conference that I attended since becoming the president of a company developing new drugs. I vaguely imagined that it would be quite different from international conferences I attended when I was at the university. When I searched the various contents on the website of the conference before departure, I got the impression that the conference was not entirely academic. My acquaintances who had previously visited the BIO conferences also told me it was not exactly a place for study.

After witnessing it, I got the impression that BIO 2017 was a large ground where the organizers gather together everything related to the biotechnology industry -- mainly companies -- allowing the participants to communicate, create partnerships, purchase, order and consult among themselves.

Numerous businesses operated booths in the conference. Among them were venture companies that research and develop candidate drugs, CMOs (Contract Manufacturing Organizations), CROs (Contract Research Organization) which supports sponsors to carry out non-clinical studies and phase I, II, III and IV clinical trials, IP (intellectual property) companies that manage patents, IT clouding companies needed for clinical trials and drug development, companies selling reagents for experiments, and small- and medium-sized enterprises like mine developing new drugs, as well as Big Pharma, including Pfizer, Amgen, Merck and MSD.

Most impressive of all, however, were national pavilions, which put together items that do not meet certain criteria in scale or remain at idea levels and display them on a country-by-country basis. All countries, including China, Japan, Hong Kong, India, the United Kingdom (separately exhibited from Scotland and England) and Spain, established large exhibition halls in the name of their country and operated small booths for small enterprises in it. In the case of the United States, however, the basic unit was not the country but states (Massachusetts, California, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, etc.), each of which operated an independent pavilion.

Among Korean companies, Samsung Biologics and Celltrion operated large exhibition booths. Governmental booths were run with the names of Korea Pavilion, Bio Korea, and Korea Drug Development Fund (KDDF).

That revealed the naked face of the government’s absence of policy. It was utterly incomprehensible that a small country like Korea, which could hardly compete with foreigners even if all related agencies unite into one, should operate separate booths run by different ministries. This was what the people who would develop bio industry as the nation’s next-generation lifeline did. It was the combined works of people who pursue personal advancements and ministerial selfishness under the pretext of making Korea a biopower.

The Korea Pavilion, for example, was jointly run by the Korea Biotechnology Industry Organization (KBIO) and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), which was the wing of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. Bio Korea was operated by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI), which belongs to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), while the Korea Drug Development Fund (KDDF) is an independent (?) organization funded by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Ministry of Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. By now, many people would click their tongues and say, “There they go again.”

Rice and Soup cannot be an entrée if they go separately until the end. Whether one pours the rice into the soup or eats them in turn, the two should meet each other in the stomach to be a meal. However, Korea’s bio industry is like the separate Rice and Soup. One can’t help but eat rice today and soup tomorrow.

Lastly, I would like to add one wish for the new government after attending the event: doing nothing is the best they can do instead of making half-baked policies to help the industry. Moreover, the bio industry is neither a cake with lots of rake-offs nor a magic turning into reality overnight. It’s a tough industry developed through numerous frustrations, failures and renewed challenges. Support and policies for bio-industry should be planned very carefully.

Above all, policies should have the objectives that the development and commercialization of new technologies serve the improvement of the public healthcare, and therefore, be planned and implemented in ways to create national wealth. Policies should also be designed not for the sake of embellishing bureaucrats’ performances or maintaining their posts, free from turf wars among government ministries.

For god’s sake, I hope they will come up with bio industry policies targeting at least the next 10 years or beyond.


<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>

An emergency medicine specialist, Song Hyoung-gon served as head of the emergency department at Samsung Medical Center and vice president and spokesman of the Korean Medical Association. He is now the CEO of GemVax & KAEL. Contact him at cprkings@gmail.com.- Ed.

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