Korea’s Government-Funded Venture into Oncology


National OncoVenture (NOV) is Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare funded oncology drug development program to nurture oncology innovation in the country.

To maintain high access and limit costs of oncology therapies, we still need to assist in the development of local Korean biotech companies. — Young-Whan Park, President of National OncoVenture


Set up in 2011, OncoVenture aims to propel locally made cancer drug candidates into the global market and breakthrough the bottleneck phenomenon in new drug development. This is an unusual business model by international standards and the first governmental virtual drug development organization (one built almost entirely on outsourcing) of new oncology drugs in South Korea. 


While there are some Korean companies that invest heavily in oncology, cancer drug development in the country is still relatively low in comparison to others. Only around 20 percent of drugs developed in Korea are for the treatment of cancer, while the global average is 40 percent. This makes Korea highly dependant on large global companies for oncology drug prescriptions — around 90 percent.


“To maintain high access and limit costs of oncology therapies, we still need to assist in the development of local Korean biotech companies,” explained Young-Whan Park, President of National OncoVenture in a recent interview with PharmaBoardroom.


An incredibly small operation, NOV employs only 17 people — experts in the field of oncology pharmaceuticals and often previous heads of leading Korean companies.


As well as providing financial support to companies developing new drugs, they also select the most promising drug candidates from originators and lead joint-development projects of new drug candidates with originators employed from outside networks.


The first criteria NOV looks for in a drug candidate is the potential to be globally competitive. Over the past six years, they have received around 170 applications 21 of which have been accepted for the programme. Currently, NOV is conducting 12 programs for further development, 5 of which are in phase II of the clinical trial stage.


Although they have no preference over chemical or biological candidates, NOV has witnessed first hand the increased saturation of biological drugs being submitted for application; “Currently, we are observing a growing trend in Korea of pharmaceutical companies prioritising biological products. This is the global pharmaceutical trend as well, and this explains why the number of biological candidates in our pipeline has increased: biologics pipelines have grown much larger, so we select more,” said Young-Whan Park.


With the explosion of new and highly innovative biotech’s coming out of Korea, NOV is hoping to have the same blockbuster success with a globally recognised cancer drug as they have had in previous years within the IT sector. “I expect a real global oncology drug to emerge from Korea within the next ten years and for Korea to become a leading player in the global market,” Young-Whan Park said optimistically.

Read our full interview with Young-Whan Park.

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