BUSINESS

Merck to support Korea’s biopharmaceutical sector

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jun 13, 2012 - 20:08
  • Updated : Jun 13, 2012 - 20:08
Executive board member Reckmann says biosimilars have great potential


A board member of global chemical and pharmaceutical giant Merck KGaA said Tuesday that the company will continue to show support for Korea’s fast growing biotechnology industry, especially toward a special class of medicines called “biosimilars.”

“Korea has built up a country strategy where a clear target is to be one of the leaders in biotechnology products worldwide (through exports of these drugs),” said Bernd Reckmann, a general partner and member of the executive board for Merck KGaA, in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

So the goal of Merck Korea, a local division of Merck KGaA, will be to help Korean companies in the research and development of these drugs through two of its branches, Merck Serono and Merck Millipore, he said.

It may also partner up with local companies to commercialize and bring these products to the market, Reckmann said.

Biosimilars refer to a specific class of highly complex biological drugs that aren’t protected by patents, and are important for consumers because they show great potential in the better treatment and curing of diseases, according to Reckmann. 
Bernd Reckmann, a general partner and member of the executive board for Merck KGaA. (The Korea Herald)

“They (may) help society treat diseases that have not been treatable before,” said Reckmann, who also serves as the chief of the chemicals business sector for the German parent company.

Reckmann said biotech medicines such as biosimilars account for almost 50 percent of all medicines currently being produced by drug companies, and its market share is growing at a faster rate than that of standard pharmaceutical drugs, which are usually produced through synthetic chemical processes. Biosimilars may even take over the standard pharmaceutical market in the future, he said.

In line with this global trend, Korean companies as well as the Korean government are actively pursuing this route as a current and future growth engine for the Korean economy.

According to Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the government has been investing heavily in the biotechnology sector since the 1990s. In 2010, the Korean government invested 246.2 billion won, a significant jump from the initial 53.6 billion won in 1994.

And private investors are entering this space as well. Last year, Samsung Electronics, through the formation of a new branch called Samsung BioLogics, entered into a multi-million dollar agreement with global biotech company Biogen Idec. The two will work together in the development of biopharmaceuticals and electronic healthcare equipment.

Reckmann, who headed the Korean branch of Merck from 2005 through 2006, arrived in Seoul for a short business trip on Monday. As a board member, he is also currently responsible for the Asia-Pacific region.

Currently, in terms of development, “Korea is in a very developed stage because the first molecules (used for producing biosimilars) are going into production,” he said.

While the first generation of biosimilars concentrated on the production of “simpler” drugs such as insulin and growth hormones, Reckmann said that following generations of biosimilars will be much more complex.

Currently, Merck Serono is researching biosimilar cancer drugs and other diseases that are difficult to treat and/or cure with the available medicines, he said.

The Darmstadt-based German Merck Group is the oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world, with a company history dating back to 1668. It established its first Korean branch in 1989 and currently has two divisions, Merck Ltd. Korea and Merck Advanced Technologies Ltd. Juergen Koenig currently serves as president and representative director of both divisions.

In addition to pharmaceuticals, other business sectors of Merck’s Korean divisions include liquid crystals, pigments, cosmetics and other new technologies, according to company officials.

By Renee Park (renee@heraldcorp.com)