Photo: COVID-19 vaccines produced by SK Bioscience. Credit: Website of the Office of the President.
Korea’s excellent response to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped the business of the country’s biotech firms. In the pandemic, companies like Seegene 씨젠 developed diagnostic kits, SK Bioscience SK바이오사이언스 and Samsung Biologics 삼성바이오로직스 produced COVID-19 vaccines, and Celltrion 셀트리온 developed a medicine for coronavirus patients. Even mid-sized companies have joined the fray, producing low dead space (LDS) syringes to maximize the doses of COVID-19 vaccines. (See previous coverage, “LDS Syringes a Crucial Link.”)
A recent article on The Economist noted that Seegene’s annual sales jumped from USD 110m to over USD 1b in 2020, and two of the top ten largest companies in the KOSPI index (Samsung Biologics and Celltrion) are biotech companies. With the passing of former Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee 이건희, the new richest man of South Korea is Seo Jeong-jin 서정진, founder of Celltrion whose net worth is USD 12.5b. The Economist noted that the Korean government has been providing tax incentives and research grants to foster the biotech industry, which had been growing at nearly 7% a year pre-pandemic, twice as fast as South Korea’s GDP. But challenges remain: as latecomers, South Korea’s biotech companies account for less than 2% of the global biotech market, and investors are beginning to get cold feet as the end of the pandemic appears to be approaching.