South Korea's exports of medicines and medical supplies surpassed the 5 trillion won (US$4.23 billion) mark in 2018 for the first time. The export growth was led by biotech medicines, which recorded a surplus for four years in a row despite the deficit in medicine and medical supply trade.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced on July 29 that exports of South Korean medical products totaled US$4.67 billion (5.53 trillion won) in 2018, a record high and a 14.8 percent increase from the previous year. The sector had been growing rapidly over the past five years, with an average annual growth rate of 17.9 percent since 2014.
Exports of bio medicines grew 13.9 percent to US$1.56 billion (1.84 trillion won) last year, accounting for 33.4 percent of the total. Bio drugs clearly showed their potential as a promising export industry as their share in Korea’s drug exports (33.4 percent) was much higher their proportion in Korea’s medicine production (12.4 percent). Exports of bio medicines had an average annual growth rate of 27.6 percent over the past five years.
By destination, exports of bio drugs to Europe were the highest with US$909.79 million (1.08 trillion won), followed by Asia with US$155.14 million (183.50 billion) and North America with US$125.82 million (148.82 billion won). North America showed a whopping 56.8 percent growth in sales.
Medicines and medical supplies as a whole posted a trade deficit of US$18.3 billion (2.16 trillion won), but bio drugs continued to show a gain for four straight years. Bio medicines had a trade surplus of US$345.67 million (408.79 billion won) last year.
Shipments of genetic recombinant drugs, including biosimilars and anti-body medicines, came to US$1.18 billion (1.39 trillion won) last year, up 18.7 percent from a year ago. They took up 75.5 percent of the total bio medicine exports.
Exports of finished medicines increased 18.8 percent on year to US$3.09 billion (3.65 trillion won) last year, surpassing the US$3 billion (3.55 trillion won) mark for the first time. Overseas shipments of finished medicines made up 66 percent of the total exports, with an average annual growth rate of 25.8 percent over the past five years.
Productions of domestic drugs stood at 21.11 trillion won (US$17.84 billion), up 3.7 percent from 20.36 trillion won (US$17.20 billion) in 2017. The number of prescription-based medicines increased from 13,639 in 2017 to 14,203 in 2018, according to the ministry. Medicines and medical supplies accounted for 1.18 percent of Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 4.35 percent of the manufacturing sector, reaching the highest level over the past five years.
By company, Hanmi Pharmaceutical Co. ranked first in terms of output with 907.50 billion won (US$767.38 million), a 19.5 percent growth compared to 2017, followed by Chongkundang Holdings Corp. with 817.20 billion won (US$690.90 million), Celltrion Inc. with 725.90 billion won (US$613.71 million) and Daewoong Pharm Co. with 692.60 billion won (US$585.51 million).