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[Herald Interview] 'Korea has potential to play key role in global bio market'

Korea’s short history of bio industry calls for more experiences, training and education, Merck official says

Dec. 7, 2021 - 15:50 By Kan Hyeong-woo
Kim Yong-seog, head of bioprocessing at Merck Life Science North Asia, speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald on Nov. 30. (Merck Life Science)
Led by major biopharmaceutical companies in Celltrion and Samsung Biologics, South Korea is poised to make a bigger impact on the global market, according to German science and technology group Merck.

“Executives at Merck headquarters think the Korean government’s vision to turn the country into a global vaccine hub by 2025 is impressive. There were suggestions to actively cooperate with the Korean government and support its strategic efforts to foster the bio industry,” said Kim Yong-seog, head of bioprocessing at Merck Life Science North Asia, in an interview with The Korea Herald on Nov. 30.

“No matter where you go in the world, there are no companies that can match the mass production capacity of Samsung Biologics and Celltrion. Korea’s potential lies in that biopharmaceuticals can be produced swiftly and accurately with such production lines.”

South Korea’s bio industry has grown steadily in recent years. According to the Korea International Trade Association’s report, the country’s pharmaceutical exports nearly doubled last year from 2019 to record $6.3 billion (7.4 trillion won).

The role of Merck Life Science is to help clients develop and make drugs. From the moment of early discovery until the actual product arrives in the market, the German group’s bio process solution provides necessary products and services for the entire value chain of creating a new drug, according to Kim.

Korea’s bio industry has a relatively short track record as biopharmaceutical companies began their operation in the early 2000s. Kim pointed out that the short history led to a shortage of professional personnel, emphasizing the importance of having experienced individuals and offering relevant training and education.

Merck recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its M Lab Collaboration Center, a research facility established to help local researchers and scientists working in the biopharmaceutical industry.

“Over past five years, M Lab Collaboration Center has conducted more than 500 regular programs with 1,000 trainees participating in them. We are considering how we can expand the role of the facility to help set up the bio ecosystem,” Kim said.

Although Merck Life Science used to focus on collaboration with bigger firms, Kim said the German group is in the process of developing support programs for smaller biopharmaceutical companies and will actively look to establish ties with them.

Last month, Merck signed a memorandum of understanding with local bio firm GI Innovation in the group’s first collaboration with a smaller company.