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New Business Opportunities in the Bio-Industry and Korea's Response

New Business Opportunities in the Bio-Industry and Korea's Response

KOH You-Sang

Oct. 30, 2004

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Expectations are rising for industrializing the use of biotechnology. A breakthrough has been achieved for treating a variety of devastating diseases like Alzheimer's and for developing new pharmaceuticals following the completion of the Human Genome Project and its successful sequencing of three billion chemical base pairs that make up the human genome. In February, a team of scientists led by Professor Hwang Woo-Suk of Seoul National University succeeded in separating stem cells from human embryo made from the fusion of a somatic cell and ovum for the first time in the world. Meanwhile, an antibiotic developed by LG Life Sciences named "Factive" has been formally approved by the US Federal Drug Administration, which makes Korea the 11th world-ranking drug developer. The Korean government plans to foster new bio-pharmaceuticals and bio-organs as one of ten growth engines of its economy. From 2003, allocation of government R&D funds for biotechnology has overtaken that for the information technology sector.

In the early 1990s, fewer than ten cases of new bio-pharmaceuticals were approved in the US each year, but that figure has recently risen to more than thirty cases, indicating that the US bio-industry has now entered a growth period. But Korea is in its nascent stage as its first bio-startup was set up in 1992, and gained its first FDA approval in 2004. Korea lags behind the US by 16 years in bio-startups and 22 years in approvals for new pharmaceuticals.

But factors such as the emergence of an aging society and growing public interest in healthcare will bring progress to Korea's bio-industry. Korea became an aging society in 2002 with people aged 65 years or older reaching 7.9% of the total population and this figure is expected to hit 14.4% by 2019. The key to success for Korea's bio-industry seems to be whether it is prepared to make long-term investments that are necessary to rise to this challenge.

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