Korea: Can High R&D Spending Lead To Commercial Success?

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Local flagship company Boryung has found success with its newly developed angiotension receptor blocker (ARB) Kanarb. Nine molecules currently exist worldwide in this category of antihypertensives, and Kanarb is currently ranked eighth. “Boryung is the only domestic company that has developed a drug from start to finish, including outlicensing. Of course, other companies have developed new chemical entities (NCEs). But in terms of experience Boryung is different. From discovery and development to product launch and internationalization, Boryung has experiences that other companies cannot imitate,” explains Choi Tae-Hong, Boryung’s president. “Given Kanarb’s competitiveness, multinationals are our new competitors.”

Could Boryung be one of the two top 50 companies that are planned in Korea’s Pharma Vision 2020? “Our own strategic objective is not to make Boryung a top 50 company in terms of sales size, but rather to make Boryung the best company in Korea in terms of marketing and R&D capability,” Choi reveals. “My dream is for Boryung to be at least number one in Korea. I do not know what the company’s rank in 2020 will be globally, but that is not so important as long as we achieve our strategic goal year by year.”

Hanmi is a Korean pharma heavyweight, and is the highest R&D spender in the Korean pharma sector, with KRW 100 billion (USD 90 million) invested in 2013. “We can lead Korean pharmaceutical companies in the R&D field,” believes Lee

Gwan-Sun, Hanmi’s CEO. “We are interactive in some external R&D activities from recent venture companies and from a very early stage we can select some candidates or compounds which can be a synergy with our current pipelines. In that sense, Hanmi can be a role model.”

Founded in 1984 and listed in 2002, with three production centers and three R&D facilities, Daehwa Pharmaceutical’s anticancer drug DHP107 aims to provide an oral version of Paclitaxel – a new ‘Made in Korea’ product. As Lee Han-Koo, president of Daehwa, explains, “there is no such thing as a single injection for oncology. One drug has to be used in conjunction with other anticancer drugs, such as enhancers that need to be interactive with each other. DHP107 avoids this situation altogether.” After finishing clinical trials, Lee hopes to receive approval for DHP107 by the end of 2015 and start marketing the product first in Korea and then to other emerging markets in the region. Daehwa currently exports to 22 markets worldwide; Lee is bullish about future growth: “Of course we will expand to satisfy all people’s needs,” he explains. “However, the methods of expanding could be diversified. For example, we have recently signed a technical contract with Iran. We send the products first and will build a plant later. We also will have made our spot in Chengdu, China. Furthermore, following the market situation and requests, we will expand our business territory to the whole world.”

Ambition and innovation is not limited to the biggest or best funded Korean labs; domestic companies of all sizes and levels of experience are prioritizing R&D investment and planning to develop new drugs in the future. Korea Pharma is a prime example, and Chairman Park Jae-Don explains they have become involved in “several R&D projects with a few different partners” over the past few years. One such project is a “pre-clinical trial for a dementia treatment based on osmotin, an ingredient extracted from tobacco leaves, in conjunction with Kyeong-Sang University,” while they are also working with an “overseas partner to develop a product that treats disease caused by bacteria resistant to CEPA antibiotics, and are currently conducting late phase clinical trials.”

“Most Korean pharmaceutical companies think they need to develop new drugs by following a manual, without having the necessary technology or infrastructure first, or in other words, without the capacity to do so,” says Kim Won-Bae, vice chairman of Dong-A Pharmaceutical, another Korean giant with ambitions to enter the global top 100 pharma companies in the next ten years. “Rather, we think we should focus on what we are capable of doing. So we deal with traditional drugs that have already been verified and used.” In 2014, the US FDA approved Dong-A’s antibiotic tedizolid marketed under the name Sivextro, the second ever such approval for a Korean innovative drug.

Article written by Cameron Rochette

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