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Pompous start, poor showing: R&D report card of oriental medicineNot a single case of technology export in 10 years
  • By Nam Doo-hyun
  • Published 2017.07.05 12:00
  • Updated 2017.07.05 12:00
  • comments 0

The Traditional Korean Medicine R&D Project, which began with the goal of developing oriental medicine into a new growth-driving industry, has produced dismal results by failing to export a single technology.

The government project, which has been progressing since 2009, includes several sectoral programs, such as the development of herb medicine, support for clinical trials, international research collaborations in the oriental medicine sector, and disease-oriented translational research.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, however, the project exported not a single technology in all of its targeted areas – new medicine, medical equipment, health foods and functional cosmetics -- during the surveyed period of between 2008 and 2016.

The project developed 20 products during the period -- 10 in the new drug sector, including candidate substances for natural product drug, six in the medical equipment sector, one in the functional cosmetics sector and three others.

It also has registered 86 patents -- 81 domestic and five foreign patents. Given one of the project’s primary goals was expanding overseas advance, however, the project has failed to produce tangible results in export.

In comparison, the National Cancer Center’s support project recorded 22 cases of technology export (13 new drugs and nine medical equipment product), and Healthcare Technology Development Project exported 36 technology items, including 32 new drugs and one medical device, from 2008-2011 when the Traditional Korean Medicine R&D Project failed to produce results in technology export.

Nonetheless, the government has been increasing its support for R&D by the traditional medicine industry.

In working out its mid- to long-term plan (2008-2017) to develop oriental medicine, the government decided to invest 539.6 billion won ($469.6 million), and allocated about half of it, 265.6 billion won, to the Traditional Korean Medicine R&D Project.

Also, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, while announcing its “second traditional medicine development plan (2011-2015),” said it would preferentially reflect traditional medicine’s R&D investments on both the national fiscal management plan and annual budget formulation.

The government’s investment has been on a steady rise, too. The ministry has decided to invest 16.36 billion won into the Traditional Korean Medicine R&D Project, including 2.74 billion won in new support, this year.

Despite the government’s extensive support, however, skeptical views are prevalent within the medical community and industry whether the project would be able to prove its competitiveness in advancing to global markets, given the dismal results of the past decade.


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