The Korea Herald


Korean pharmaceutical companies lag in research

By 손지영

Published : Aug. 3, 2015 - 16:57

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South Korean pharmaceutical companies were found to be lagging behind in new product development, as global pharma firms have filed around three times more patents over the past four years, industry data showed Monday.

Of the 1,754 patents filed in Korea since official monitoring began in March 2012, 1,310 were by international pharmaceutical companies whereas only 444 came from local firms, according to B2Pharm’s Green List Alert service, which publishes weekly reports on patent registrations and approvals in the country.

The top 10 companies with the most patent registrations were all foreign-based, with U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKlein topping the list at 54, followed by Novartis and MSD at 47, Janssen Pharmaceutica at 38 and AstraZeneka at 28. Bayer recorded 27 patents, Takeda 25 and Boehringer Ingelheim 23. 

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Among Korean companies, Handok posted the largest number of patents, listing at No. 11 with 21 registrations, followed by SK Chemicals and JW Pharmaceutical at 20. Daewoong Pharmaceutical posted 18 registrations, followed by Dong-A ST and Hanmi Pharmaceutical at 16 and LG Life Sciences and Yuhan Corp. at 14.

Industry watchers say that compared to their global counterparts Korean pharma firms lack the level of capital and technology needed to more actively drive forward research required for product development and commercialization.

Last Tuesday, Hanmi Pharmaceutical reached an exclusive license and collaboration agreement, valued at around 850 billion won ($730 million) with Germany’s Boehringer Ingelheim, to sell the development and global commercialization rights of HM61713, a lung cancer treatment drug in development.

In March, the Korean firm sealed another licensing deal with U.S.-based Eli Lilly and Company to sell its autoimmune disease treatment HM71224, which is in the final stages of development.

Though deals of such size with global companies mark significant achievements in the domestic pharma sector, they also reveal the current shortcomings of the local industry, according to experts.

“Had Hanmi chosen to directly commercialize the product, the company could have reaped trillions of won in profits in the future,” said a pharma official, adding that “the new drug had high potential for successful global sales.”

Unbearably high costs of development and marketing as well as risks of failure reportedly stand in the way for Korean pharma firms to pursue independent development and commercialization of their newly-developed drug technologies.

“Though it would be best if Korean companies could carry forward their drug technology into the product commercialization stages, such processes require large funds and global marketing channels, which most Korean companies currently lack,” said an official from the Korean Research-based Pharma Industry Association.

“Moreover, there are high risks and costs associated with promoting and selling a new product in global markets,” she said, adding, “the licensing deals themselves nonetheless signal significant strides for Hanmi and the Korean pharma industry." 

By Sohn Ji-young (