Making bio-health a future growth engine

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Making bio-health a future growth engine

Kang Dae-hee

The author is a professor at Seoul National University Medical School and head of the future development committee.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas every January, is the biggest event of its kind and is hosted by the American Consumer Technology Association. Samsung Electronics and other leading global companies introduce new products and showcase innovative technologies. As the importance of health has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the bio health field is growing. Robert Ford, chair of bio-health company Abbott, gave a speech at this year’s CES, and this year’s event was dubbed a “health care show.” Many new technologies in the Covid-solution area and telemedicine were introduced.

Many Korean healthcare companies participated in the show and got good reviews. A sleep apnea treatment device with AI got special attention. What strategies do we need for Korean companies with the latest bio-health technologies to successfully enter overseas markets and become industry leaders?

First, we need national level organization and support for nurturing the bio-health industry. Six bio-health tasks have been included in the 110 national agenda items of the new administration. But tasks to prepare for the future — such as nurturing the bio-health sector — have lower priority in execution because of pending issues that require immediate solutions. Therefore, as the president emphasized, a new governance system to integrate and operate jobs scattered across ministries is required to monitor the national agenda and progress.

In the previous administration, the Democratic Party created the bio-health headquarters, worked with experts in the bio-medical, medical device and digital medicine fields, and proposed regulatory reform and industry promotion plans. The new administration must closely review the development plan created by the previous administration and decide which areas to prioritize and support. If semiconductors are the key of the fourth industry, DNA is the core of the fifth industry. Competitive and promising fields using DNA — such as precision medicine, digital medicine, and customized prevention — should be selected and promoted through systematic support.

Next is support for overseas expansion of Korean bio-health companies. An organization aimed at helping the bio-health industry’s overseas advance for its investment, business matching, bidding information, legal and accounting advice for setting up a corporation, and visa issue for employees should be set up.

As the medical field is vulnerable to the restrictions of local laws, a government’s role is very important. Just as the U.S. Secretary of Health visited Korea a few years ago to host an event for American healthcare companies at the U.S. Embassy in Korea, the government’s attention and support is essential.

Just as the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra) played a key role when Korean companies expanded overseas in the 1970s, Korean bio-health companies can enhance their competitiveness if the Korea Health Industry Development Institute is elevated to a healthcare industry promotion agency under the Prime Minister’s Office and gets systematic support.

The last is training of the workforce. Korean medical care is world-class. The Asan Medical Center in Seoul ranked fifth in the world for cancer treatment by Newsweek, and Seoul National University Hospital and Samsung Medical Center also made world-class achievements in specific fields. In less than 100 years since the introduction of Western medicine, Korean medicine rose to international levels thanks to the most talented people majoring in the field.

The developer of the sleep apnea treatment device mentioned above is an otolaryngologist who started a company. As shown in this case, a systematic system to train workforce for the talents in the medical field to lead healthcare and biotechnology fields are needed. The new Yoon Seok-yeol administration is preparing for a research-centered medical school project, which can be a key to nurturing medical scientists. At the same time, university hospitals must not just focus on treatment, but also actively pursue the development of the healthcare industry.

During the pandemic, Korea successfully produced coronavirus vaccines in a year with accumulated biotechnology and drastic investment in research. The country is soon to produce its first domestic Covid vaccines. As digital medicine has been rapidly developing with telecommuting and social distancing, new medical technologies using medical metaverse and blockchain are in progress. The future is the age of biotechnology.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
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