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A Site Selection Web Exclusive, December 2015
WEB Exclusive story

The Race is On

A billion-dollar fund and a gigantic conglomerate drive biopharma investment in South Korea.

Samsung BioLogics on Dec. 21 announced it would construct the world's largest biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant.
Photo courtesy of Samsung BioLogics

by Adam Bruns
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HUYA Bioscience International (HUYA), a Chinese drug discovery and development firm, recently opened its first corporate office in Seoul, South Korea.

"This continues to build on HUYA's overall strategy to be the partner-of-choice for innovative pharmaceutical companies in emerging centers of excellence worldwide," said the company's release.

HUYA was the first company to leverage the Tripartite Cooperation Treaty between Korea, China and Japan to advance product development in Japan based on Chinese data. The November signing of an agreement between HUYA and the Korean Drug Development Fund (KDDF) will enable HUYA and the KDDF to form partnerships with local companies and research institutions.

The new HUYA office in Korea is located in the World Tower Building in the Songpa-Gu District, a high-tech business zone in Seoul.
Photo courtesy of HUYA Bioscience International

"Korea is an emerging center of biopharma research innovation, and we are excited to open HUYA's new office in a location where talented Korean researchers are doing groundbreaking work," said Mireille Gillings, Ph.D., HUYA's president and CEO whose firm also is making inroads in China. "We look forward to collaborating with Korean innovators to raise Korea's profile as a global center of biopharma innovation and make exceptional therapies available for patients."

Korea Drug Development Fund (KDDF) is a cross-ministry full-cycle R&D project of the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which have provided support for new drug development. It is a global new drug development project with the investment of 1.6 trillion won (US$1.37 billion, evenly split between government and private-sector funds) for nine years until 2020, with the goal of developing 10 or more new global drugs and realizing a advancement of the new drug R&D investment strategy platform targeting the global market.

Earlier this month, KDDF announced it had signed an MOU with Johnson & Johnson Innovation aimed at developing and commercializing healthcare products originating from Korean organizations for the global market. "KDDF is focusing on joint R&D programs to maximize the possibility of out licensing, reflecting the demand from global big pharmaceuticals and spread advanced new drug development know-how to the domestic industry," read an English-language translation of the KDDF release. "The joint R&D program with Johnson & Johnson Innovation is the start of this initiative."

The Korea Drug Development Fund (KDDF), led by CEO Joo Sang-aun (pictured) has signed multiple agreements over the past year, including with Huya (left), Johnson & Johnson (middle) and Abion (right).
Photos courtesy of KDDF

Under the MOU, the two parties will establish a strategic cooperative relationship to explore and select new drug candidates, support new drug research institutes in Korea and to potentially develop and commercialize new diabetes drug candidate substances invented in Korea for the global marketplace. Any domestic research institute engaging in R&D of potentially global and innovative new drugs at the earliest stages of development in the field of diabetes can apply for the program, and if both parties agree to the suitability of investment, Johnson & Johnson Innovation could also potentially invest along with KDDF in the project.

"There are many innovative projects with a high potential for the global market among the candidates possessed by domestic industry, universities and other research entities," said Joo Sang-aun, CEO of KDDF. "Through joint investment with global multinational pharmaceuticals, we can improve investment profitability, introduce advanced drug development know-how and accelerate the advancement of domestic new drug development by attracting foreign investment and minimizing development risks."

Value From Abroad and From Within

KDDF overall has selected and provided grants for 80 projects out of 287 applications across all therapeutic areas and development stages. There have been 14 out-license deals worth en estimated $5 billion USD completed to date. KDDF is operating a dual portfolio consisting of innovation type, and fit-for-purpose type.

According to Venture Valuation's Korean Biotech Database, South Korea is home to 416 biopharma companies in all, which break down by the following categories (they also can be mapped at the database's website):

Number of Companies in the Korean Biotech Database

Biotechnology - Therapeutics and Diagnostics 39
Biotechnology - R&D Services 66
Biotechnology - other 87
Pharma 113
Medical Technology 31
Investor 2
Professional Services and Consulting 8
Public / Non-Profit Organizations / Medical Facilities 24
Supplier & Engineering 46
Total 416
source: Venture Valuation's Biotechgate,

While much of the investment is coming from outside the country, not all of it is. On December 21, Samsung BioLogics celebrated the groundbreaking of its third plant in Incheon Free Economic Zone in Songdo.

With a total investment of 850 billion won (US$727 million), the third plant will be a world-leading facility both in terms of capacity (180,000 liters) and production efficiency. The plant is expected to be completed by 2017 and begin operation in the fourth quarter of 2018 after validation, said the company.

Once it begins operation, Samsung BioLogics expects to become the world's largest biologics contract manufacturing organization (CMO) with a total production capacity of 360,000 liters.

"We are investing in a third plant to provide a stable supply of biopharmaceuticals, a market which is growing exponentially, and to meet the manufacturing demands from global biopharmaceutical companies," said Dr. TH Kim, CEO of Samsung BioLogics. "With the world's largest capacity and the capability to operate 365 days a year non-stop, the third plant will boast world-class quality and productivity. "

Samsung BioLogics' first plant has recently received official approval for production from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and its second plant is scheduled to begin operation in early 2016.

Once the third plant is in full operation, Samsung BioLogics expects it will be able to reach 2 trillion won (US$1.7 billion) in annual sales and 1 trillion won in operating profit. In the longer term, the company plans to continuously expand its CMO business with further investments planned for 4th and 5th plants.

The Republic of Korea (South Korea)’s free trade agreements with China, Vietnam and New Zealand went into effect on December 20, bolstering potential for further life sciences investment from Chinese firms like HUYA.
Photo courtesy of the Korean Government

Adam Bruns
Managing Editor of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns has served as managing editor of Site Selection magazine since February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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