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‘Medical research should aim commercial use, not paper publishing’Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine supports research of all doctors, director says
  • By Kwak Sung-sun
  • Published 2020.06.01 16:13
  • Updated 2020.06.01 16:13
  • comments 0

Ajou University Hospital is well known for its enthusiasm and aggressive support for medical research.

The hospital’s research-centered operation began with the establishment of the Institute of Medical Science in 1996. The hospital added Brain Disease Research Center in 1998, Chronic Inflammatory Disease Research Center in 2003, and the Science Research Center in 2011.

Ajou University Hospital won the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s designation of the research-centered hospital three times consecutively from 2013 to 2019.

Director Kim Chul-ho of Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine

In particular, the hospital’s research centers won four major national research projects in the areas of the Brain Korea 21 Plus (BK21+), chronic inflammatory disease, and genomic instability research. Despite the small size compared to the nation’s five largest university hospitals, Ajou University Hospital is on a par with the Big Five in medical research.

Research outcomes show the university’s competitiveness. The hospital earned 52 billion won ($42.4 million) research money in 2019, up sharply from 28.4 billion won in 2010. During the period, the numbers of new business cases created by researches went from zero to 11, MOUs, from one to 16, patent registrations, from 39 to 114, licensing-out deals, from three to nine, and SCI papers, from 332 to 548.

Confident in research capabilities, Ajou University Hospital recently announced 10 prospective medical technologies. They are precision medicine based on protein chips, bispecific immunomodulator/immune antibody, plasma medicine, organoid-based tissue generation/cancer treatment, 3D printing-based artificial organ, liquid biopsy, wearable soft robot, human microbiome-based immunomodulator, AI-based clinical/imaging/genetic/biosignal disease prediction platform, and medical device software.

The hospital’s rapid growth in research is attributable to the aggressive support from Ajou University Medical Center.

The establishment of the Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine in 2013 allowed the hospital to receive systematic research support.

Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine, an organization for research only, has 14 research centers and nine clinical science integrated research teams. The research institute conducts various research and clinical studies, continuing activities that are suitable for research-centered Ajou University Hospital.

Otolaryngology professor Kim Chul-ho, who was appointed as director of Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine in February, said medical research should focus on commercializing technologies rather than merely publishing papers.

He said that excellent medical staff of the university hospital should study necessary technologies intensively while treating patients and conducting research, commercialize the technologies to generate profits, and use the profits to help develop the hospital in a virtuous cycle.

“It is important to write many papers by working hard at the research-centered hospital. But taking a step further, we aim to generate profits through intellectual properties, academic-industrial cooperation, and commercializing technologies,” Kim said. “Our role models are the Mayo Clinic and the Johns Hopkins Hospital, which are famous around the world.”

Ajou University Hospital established a “medicine research cooperation center” to provide integrated management and support the research infrastructure, scattered at Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine. The hospital is steadily updating researcher nurturing programs, too.

“The hospital has been running various researcher nurturing programs. We not only help doctors do basic research after acquiring a specialist license, instead of enlisting in the military but provide research support from the level of a resident to a doctoral degree,” he said.

When such talented people apply for a job at the university, the university allows them to win an advantage when appointing a professor, Kim noted. “To enhance research competitiveness, we have to make doctors study hard from the beginning of a doctor’s life. So, we need to create an environment where they can be hired as professors relatively easily.”

Also important was to promote domestic research outcomes in a global setting, Kim emphasized.

“Foreigners are changing their views on Korea’s healthcare capabilities. Now is the critical timing,” he said. “As the new coronavirus pandemic drew much attention to Korean-made test kits, we need to promote Korean pharmaceutical and medical device products a lot.”

Plasma medicine, for example, has emerged as the prospective area, and Korean researchers have to “go global,” Kim said.

Korea is a too small market. If local researchers promote their studies and write as many as possible, there will be a chance that our status will go higher, he noted.

Last year, Newsweek selected Ajou University Hospital as one of the top 100 hospitals around the world, and it was an encouraging achievement, Kim said.

As the foreign media recognized a Korean medical institution’s competitiveness with an objective indicator, Korea can promote various medical technologies and innovative examples, he emphasized.

Kim said turning research into commercializing technologies and medical business was the key to operate a research-centered hospital. As director of Ajou Research Institute for Innovative Medicine, he vowed to lead Ajou University Hospital’s technology commercialization.

“University hospitals should engage in medical business. The demand is rising in Korea, and hospitals should be able to meet the demand,” he said. Gone are the days when hospitals had to earn profits by seeing as many patients as possible, he added.

If research becomes profits, profits get re-invested in medicine, and the investment leads to the creation of new medical technology, the virtuous cycle will contribute to lifting the sluggish Korean economy one notch, Kim predicted.

Although the government is giving much support for commercializing medical technologies from research, the government also needs to encourage researchers even when their studies fail to produce results, Kim pointed out.

“We need a detailed support strategy for technology commercialization from the early stage to the last, and even during a stagnant phase,” he said.


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