In the traditional IT sector, Google, Facebook, Apple and so on are already dominant and it is extremely difficult for newcomers to hit the jackpot. This is not so in the biotech and healthcare sector because techniques and solutions for utilizing a huge amount of data have just begun to be developed. This is why an increasing number of IT developers are entering the sector one after another.
Most of such people in South Korea, in particular, experts in the field of bioinformatics are former researchers of the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT). They made their research experience and developed their career at the SAIT that has handled quickly and inexpensively genetic information and health-related data by means of information technology (IT) such as deep learning and AI.
Standigm CEO Kim Jin-han obtained his Ph. D. degree in artificial intelligence (AI) from the University of Edinburgh and researched on AI-based new drug development at the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT). During his collaboration with other teams of the SAIT, he met researcher Song Sang-ok and researcher Yoon So-jung, who are the current COO and CRO of Standigm, respectively. They conducted research on a computer-based simulation of DNA restoration by utilizing deep learning at the institute. Their research project terminated in late 2014, and then they left the institute in late April 2015 and set up Standigm in four days.
Likewise, the founders of Vuno including CEO Lee Ye-ha and CSO Kim Hyun-joon established the company in 2014 after conducting research on deep learning application to voice recognition at the SAIT. Looncup and Selvas AI are also working on new technology by recruiting developers from the SAIT. Looncup is currently working on biomedical data analysis based on IoT sensors attached to menstrual cups. Selvas AI is a startup that developed a solution predicting the likelihood of diseases based on the medical checkup records of individuals.
Outside the country, more and more IT firms are jumping into the industry by making use of their own technology. For example, IBM, Nokia and Google are in pursuit of new business opportunities by combining biotechnology with information and communications technology (ICT) such as big data analysis, machine learning and AI. IBM is currently analyzing genetic codes with its supercomputer as well as the Watson and Nokia is working on related solutions by acquiring startups.
Google spun off its bioscience subsidiary Verily in 2015 to develop medical equipment and collect and analyze health data. In addition, Google is investing in firms developing cancer immunotherapy by means of machine learning-based patient information analysis, developing genetic diagnosis and testing, etc.
The U.S. government, in the meantime, is investing US$250,000 a year in bioinformatics via the National Institutes of Health, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, etc. According to market research firm Research and Markets, the global bioinformatics market is estimated to grow from US$6.2 billion to US$16.1 billion between last year and 2021.
In South Korea, the research and technological development are being led by the above-mentioned startups. Standigm recently released AI-based new drug development services by the names of Hunter and Expander. These services are to expand the efficacy of existing drugs with AI by analyzing drug data and suggesting candidate drugs for the treatment of particular or rare diseases. “The services have been in the market for only 15 days and no pharmaceutical company is currently using them, but multiple global major pharmaceutical companies, Japanese in particular, are showing their interest in them,” Standigm explained. Vuno recently recruited an expert developer from Philips in order to accelerate its solution development process.