The Korean biotech ecosystem appears to have reached maturity as a growing number of small and medium-sized companies hit the jackpot in addition to such large companies as SK Biopharm and Celltrion.
South Korean Biotech venture companies posted about 5 trillion won in technology export in the second half of this year. The achievement is remarkable in light of these companies’ limitations in human resources and capital.
Alteogen recently signed a non-exclusive deal to license out its human hyaluronidase (ALT-B4) platform technology to one of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies. The Korean venture company will receive a total of US$1.37 billion, excluding US$130 million in an upfront payment, if its partner successfully rolls out a product and reaches its target sales.
Quratis, a specialist in tuberculosis vaccine, signed a 1.2 trillion-won license and exclusive sales rights contract on its adult and youth tuberculosis vaccine (QTP101) with Indonesian state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Pharma.
GI Innovation offered Chinese pharmaceutical company Simcere an exclusive right to develop and commercialize its dual-fusion immuno-cancer drug (GI-101) technology in China for US$796 million.
Bridge Bio signed a 1.52 trillion-won technology export contract in July, becoming the first Korean biotech company to conclude an export deal worth more than 1 trillion won.
Tium Bio also transferred two new drug pipelines within three years of its founding. Tium Bio’s new drug (TU2218) for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is being developed as an inhibitory immunosuppressive agent, which is separate from the applications specified for the technology export to the Chiesi Group of Italy late last year.
Such success stories suggest that Korea’s biotech ecosystem has matured. The number of small and medium-sized bio venture firms was about 100 in 1992 but surpassed 1,000 in 2002, 2,000 in 2010 and 3,000 in 2015. This year, the number is estimated at more than 4,000. Investment is also continuing. According to the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, fresh investment in venture companies reached 3.10 trillion won in the first nine months of this year, up 20.6 percent from last year. Of the total, 892.8 billion won (28.8 percent) went to the biotech sector. As the biotech sector is recognized as a future growth engine, investment is being concentrated on it.
Industry experts say that the biotech ecosystem has matured through the government’s steady support, private enterprises’ persistent efforts to develop new drugs, and Korea’s startup funding structure.
"Recent technology exports mean that Korean biotech companies have secured world-class technology," said Lee Seung-gyu, vice-chairman of the Korea Bio Association. “As they have advanced to the level of exporting their technologies through license agreements, it will not be long before they carry out the third phase of clinical trials on their own.”