Biotech is back

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Biotech is back

The nation’s biotechnology and life sciences industries are hitting one milestone after another. Many of the biological and genetic experiments undertaken in laboratories more than a decade ago are finally ready to see daylight and hit drug store shelves.

According to the Korea Food and Drug Administration, a local biotechnology enterprise has completed clinical safety testing of a drug aimed at treating acute myocardial infarction - or heart attacks - and has filed for approval with health authorities. If it passes the screening, the company will be able to release the world’s first legitimate drug derived from stem cell technology.

Other biotechnology companies are also actively involved in developing disease-specific stem cells into drugs to treat and repair knee cartilage and spinal cord injuries. These companies may open the door to entirely new medical treatments and prop up the health care industry by releasing blockbuster drugs using human embryonic stem cells.

News of breakthroughs in the local bioengineering industry is coming from many areas. Single-gene malady treatment using an individual’s DNA genome is ready for commercialization. Thanks to advances in genome analysis and technology, the cost of having a hospital study your gene sequence is expected to fall to $1,000 within two to three years. We may not be far away from the days when we’ll commonly receive accurate diagnosis of ailments and individually tailored treatments based on our genetic makeup.

Competition in the area of low-cost generic products marketed after the expiration of patents is also getting fierce. Large business groups like Samsung, LG, Hanwha and CJ are jumping into the fray to sell drugs with similar properties to biotech drugs whose patents are about to expire.

The local biotechnology industry has groped its way through a dark tunnel over the last 10 years. The gold hunt in the Kosdaq market and controversy over scientist Hwang Woo-suk’s fabrication of his stem-cell research also scarred and crippled the industry.

But news of technological headway is triggering excessive competition and reckless scouting of scientists and bioengineers. Authorities must now step in to redefine the industry and revisit the nation’s strategy for biotechnology.

The industry is a high-end market that can fuel the country’s future growth. The government should administer state projects in key areas and promote strategic alliances among companies. A new business model can be created by fostering partnerships between large corporate giants and upstart biotech companies.
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