The domestic biotech industry has been growing rapidly in recent years. Since 2016, Korea's biopharmaceuticals exports have surpassed imports. Biopharmaceuticals are pharmaceuticals made from materials derived from human or other organisms. Examples are biologics, genetically modified drugs, cell culture drugs, cell therapy drugs and gene therapy drugs.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) announced on Jan. 15 that Korea’s medicine exports set a record in 2017 by reaching US$4.6 billion, an increase of 30.6 percent from the previous year.
In 2017, exports of biopharmaceuticals amounted to 1.54 trillion won (US$1.38 billion), surpassing imports that totaled 1.17 trillion won (US$1.05 billion). Biopharmaceuticals exports began to overtake imports in 2016.
Korea’s drug exports were led by biopharmaceuticals, antibiotics, vaccines and Botox products. The top two export items were immunology products. They accounted for 33.5 percent of the total exports with US$1.36 billion.
The global pharmaceutical market was estimated at US$825 billion as of 2017 and is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 6.4 percent by 2024, reaching US$1.206 trillion.
Biopharmaceuticals account for about 25 percent of the global pharmaceutical market. Of the top 100 drugs in the world, sales of biopharmaceuticals accounted for 44 percent of total sales in 2014, up from 21 percent in 2006, and are expected to reach 46 percent by 2020. This is because demand for biosimilars for cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis is forecast to continue to increase, as population aging has become a global phenomenon.
Biopharmaceuticals are more expensive than synthetic drugs. As a result, biopharmaceuticals accounted for eight of the top 10 drugs in the world in 2016. The eight products include top-selling Humira, Enbrel, Rituxan, Remicade, Avastin, Herceptin, Lantus and Prevenar. Of the top 100 drugs in the world, sales of biopharmaceuticals jumped from 21 percent in 2006 to 44 percent in 2014 and are expected to account for 46 percent by 2020.
Meanwhile, biosimilars have been leading the domestic bio industry. Domestic biosimilars producers started selling products to Europe and the United States as the patents for the top 10 new bio-drugs have expired. Since biosimilars are 30 percent cheaper than original bio-drugs, they are competitive in price.
Domestic biotech companies are also on their way to develop biopharmaceuticals, such as cancer immunotherapy, cell therapy, innovative antibody therapy and gene therapy.
In addition, with the expansion of the biosimilar market, global companies are pursuing technological differentiation through large-scale investment. Therefore, technology exports by domestic biotech companies are expected to increase for prompt commercialization of technologies.