Kudos to Celltrion

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Kudos to Celltrion

Celltrion, a local biopharmaceutical company, has succeeded in penetrating the U.S. market with Inflectra, a biosimilar drug it developed. The company announced on Wednesday that Inflectra received approval for marketing in the United States from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is the first time that the FDA has approved an antibody biosimilar.

Inflectra — a generic drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis — has the same effect as the original drug Remicade, but the price is 30 to 40 percent cheaper. Last year, Remicade worth about 12 trillion won ($10.4 billion) was sold around the world. Pharmaceutical experts say that Celltrion can earn an annual revenue of 2 trillion won if the biosimilar takes up 10 percent of the 20 trillion won market in the U.S. alone. With the FDA’s approval, the Korean pharmaceutical company has established a solid foothold for a global takeoff.

Human failures and frustrations are worth it. The success story of Celltrion explains why. Seo Jung-Jin, CEO and founder of Celltrion, had been a promising employee at Daewoo Motors, as seen in his eye-catching promotion to board member at the age of 34. He knew nothing about the bio-industry. With a spirit of challenge, courage and ambition, he set up the company in 2002 with strong convictions that the field of healthcare will be a mainstay of our future industries. Despite all the criticism of his lack of expertise and cynical views about his possibility for success in developing biosimilars, he was never discouraged.

Seo kicked off a project to develop Inflectra after investing 400 billion won in 2006. After running out of money for research, he resorted to underground financial markets and borrowed money after depositing his shares in the company as collateral. Malicious rumors were rampant on the stock market. When stock watchers cast suspicions on his company’s ability to develop a biosimilar, he even thought of suicide, Seo said. Nevertheless, he did not surrender and moved on with the spirit of entrepreneurship. “Regardless of all the pessimistic views, I clearly saw the potential for huge success in the bio-industry,” he said. Seo’s story is similar to that of Hanmi Pharmaceutical Chairman Lim Sung-ki, who hit the jackpot after developing a drug for diabetes last year.

The message from Celltrion and Hanmi is clear. The only prescription for business success is bold entrepreneurship armed with hunger, courage, vision and perseverance. That can pull our economy from its lethargic slowdown.

JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 8, Page 30
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