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Industry Report

Industry reports, briefs and video-clips issued by Samsung Economic Research Institute



LEE Seung-Chul

Aug. 4, 2011


Welcome to our video program. I'm Seung-Chul Lee from the Economic Policy Department.

These days, more and more diseases have become treatable thanks to research on new drugs. An indispensible part of this research is clinical trials, which entails risks in that side effects are always possible when tests are conducted on human subjects.

If clinical trials are free from harmful effects, they can quickly provide more accurate results regarding the efficacy and safety of new drugs. If expenses are moderate, such new drug research can contribute to the enhancement of public health. If animal testing is waived, clinical trials can also contribute to animal welfare. Such results can be achieved by using a “Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC).”

A “Lab-on-a-Chip” is a device that integrates biological, chemical and other laboratory functions on a single chip only a few square centimeters in size. Processing, arrangement, control, and analysis of samples of experiments on living subjects can all be done on the chip. LOCs integrate biotech, nanotech, and IT into a new tool for research and development on new treatments in fields like life science, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and medicine.

In particular, LOCs are set to become central to managing the vast quantities of data arising from projects like the Human Genome Project, as well as the “U-health” or ubiquitous healthcare environment that can be put into place based on such data.

Currently, LOCs are mainly used in the medical, biotech, and environmental sectors. In the medical sector, they are used to diagnose diseases like cancer and identify new compounds that target certain markers. In the pharmaceutical sector, they are used to screen new drug candidate compounds and test toxicity, pharmacological effects, and efficacy of the substances. They are also used to detect pollutants, toxic materials, and viruses in the environmental sector.

“Human-on-a-Chip” technology that uses miniature organs made from human cells, complete with blood vessels can mimic human physiology. Thus, researchers can see in person the effects and side effects that a human subject might undergo if a new drug candidate was injected into the body. “Lungs-on-a-Chip” and other such chips that simulate human organs are sought after by many researchers for this reason.

Using LOCs in the biotech field has many advantages. First, it takes less time to analyze LOC results, which can be done in only a few seconds or minutes. In contrast, existing methods involving animal testing typically take from days to months. Second, because LOCs need fewer samples and reagents, experimental costs are reduced. Third, LOCs allow simultaneous analysis of multiple samples, and experiments can be easily repeated due to automated testing. Fourth, LOCs offer results with higher accuracy and effectiveness because experiments are conducted on human cells and blood vessels. Finally, LOCs save on space because chips are portable and mass production of chips is possible.

Biotech companies have rushed to leverage these advantages. Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are introducing LOCs to their new drug development process. One pharmaceutical company in China replaced its existing process for experiments using nitroglycerin for cardiac therapy to one using LOCs. Korea is also a part of this trend. A joint team consisting of Je-Kyun Park at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Eun Sook Lee at Korea University has succeeded in developing an LOC using microfluidic immunocytochemical staining for efficient immunoreaction. Simply pushing the chip to a patient slide with cancer cells on it creates micro channels for each of four biomarkers, enabling researchers to determine what type of cancer it is. Benefits from this approach are reduced examination time (one tenth of existing methods), less consumption of antibodies (one two-hundredth of existing methods) and cheaper examination costs (from 40-50,000 won).

Today, LOCs are at an early stage of development, so the market size is not that big. However, industrial demand is expected to skyrocket in the future. According to Frost & Sullivan, the LOC businesses in Europe recorded $660 million in profit in 2008. It forecast profit to reach $1.6 billion by 2015 and further rise at an annual rate of 13.5% thereafter. Additional progress in LOC technology will make it possible to implant the chip within the human body and conduct analysis on a real-time basis. Moreover, completion of the Human Genome Project will spur growth in the protein chip market. All of these are likely to serve as fuel for more growth in the LOC industry.

By fusing biotech, nanotech, and IT, LOCs can have a wide range of applications, including medicine, pharmaceuticals, the environment, chemicals, and food. The market outlook for LOCs is rosy. Growth of the LOC market can not only ensure better accuracy and effectiveness for experiments but can also enhance public health conditions and conserve the environment by reducing experimental costs and avoiding animal testing.

The development of LOCs requires high levels of biotech and IT skills, since the chip system itself is very diverse and complex. In this sense, LOCs are a good seed business for Korea where advanced research personnel and infrastructure are already in place. One thing to remember is that there is a possibility of patent conflicts because LOCs involve a multitude of technologies. With proper response strategies, however, LOCs can serve as a strong new growth engine.

Thank you for watching. I'm Seung-Chul Lee.

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