ISU Abxis: Charting a New Direction


ISU Abxis is a biotech company founded in 2001 with a focus on orphan drugs and rare disease. Part of the ISU chaebol, ISU Abxis has leveraged its parent company’s long-standing expertise in chemicals.


We have penetrated the Korean market already, and have received approval in 12 overseas emerging markets, including Turkey, Iran, Mexico and Kazakhstan

Seok Joo Lee, ISU Abxis

ISU founded its chemical line 50 years ago and is a leading company in Linear Alkylbenzene, a component used in the production of detergents. ISU is the sole producer in Korea and amongst the top 4 producers globally,” remarks Seok Joo Lee, ISU Abxis’ CEO. In 2000, in order to maintain growth, the group made its first move into biopharmaceuticals. ISU Chemical still maintains a 32 percent stake in ISU Abxis and a willingness to provide financial support. “The company’s development is based on the willingness of our parent organisation, the ISU group,” emphasizes Lee.


Since its establishment, ISU Abxis has successfully received approval for three orphan drugs, for Clotinab® in 2006, the first antibody therapeutic in Korea, Abcertin® for Gaucher disease in 2012, and Fabagal® in 2014, treating Fabry disease. “These three products were developed too early for biosimilar regulation to govern them, so are officially classified as orphan drugs,” explains Lee. Isu Abxis’ scope of operations has not been limited to Korea’s domestic market either, with multiple international approvals allowing 35 percent of its USD 17 million revenue to be generated abroad. As Lee recalls, “we have penetrated the Korean market already, and have received approval in 12 overseas emerging markets, including Turkey, Iran, Mexico and Kazakhstan. We are awaiting product approvals in ten more markets, for example, Russia, Argentina, and Algeria.”


While ISU Abxis’ original strategy was to target emerging markets first and rapidly commercialize their products, expanding into developed markets like Europe and the USA at a later date, the company’s strategy has shifted 180 degrees, with a full focus behind receiving approvals in the largest markets on offer. “One of my first initiatives after becoming the CEO was to amend our strategy to target the European and the US markets first, and then the rest of the world” Lee declares.


The last-minute change in direction has created some apparent idiosyncrasies in ISU’s operations – “The order of ISU Abxis’ approach is now slightly reversed compared to conventional development: having already marketed products and now commencing clinical trials”.


Like many in Korea, ISU Abxis’ focus is now turning towards biosimilars. From 2010 ISU Abxis invested more into research for new drugs and biosimilars and has two new drugs under development: an anti-cancer drug targeting ErbB3, and a second candidate, ISU304, a potential treatment for haemophilia.


Read the full interview with ISU Abxis CEO Seok Joo Lee here

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