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Korea’s 2017 pharma exports rise 30%, led by robust sales of biosimilars

South Korea’s pharmaceutical export volume for 2017 soared 30 percent to reach $4.07 billion, riding on strong sales of biologic drug products, including biosimilars and botulinum toxin drugs, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said Friday.

Exports of biologic drugs in 2017 stood at $1.37 billion, up 28.6 percent on-year, and accounted for 33.6 percent of the country’s total pharmaceutical exports.

Biologic drugs are made with living cells using recombinant DNA technology. They differ from chemical combination drugs, typically taken in the form of tablets.


Japan was the biggest export destination for Korea’s pharmaceutical products, importing $497 million worth, followed by the US ($386 million), China ($359 million), Germany ($221 million) and Hungary ($211 million).

The ministry attributed the sharp growth of Korea’s biologic drug exports to robust overseas sales of biosimilar drugs produced by local drugmaker Celltrion. Biosimilars refer to cheaper near-copies of biologic drugs for which patents have expired.

In the biologics category, the No. 1 export product was Celltrion’s Remsima, a biosimilar referencing Remicade, for which export volume reached $564 million in 2017. Celltrion’s Truxima, a biosimilar based on Rituxan, stood at No. 2, achieving $348 million in exports last year.

Together, the two drugs recorded an export volume of $913 million, around 66.7 percent of Korea’s total biologic drug exports for the year 2017.

The export volume of botulinum toxin drugs also saw significant growth, increasing 100.8 percent from $50.77 million in 2016 to $119 million in 2017.

The ministry expects botulinum toxin drugs to continue to play an important role in the country’s pharma exports in the coming years, noting that many Korea-made botulinum toxin drugs are drawing closer to commercialization in global markets like the US, Europe and China.

On the other hand, Korea’s pharmaceutical imports totaled $5.57 billion in 2017, falling about 1 percent from the $5.64 billion recorded in 2016. The ministry cited the decline to decreased imports of Hepatitis C treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni.

Meanwhile, Korea’s pharmaceutical production revenue is also on the rise. The country’s net pharmaceutical production revenue reached 20.35 trillion won ($18.5 billion), the ministry said.

The biggest pharmaceutical producer was Celltrion (902.3 billion won), followed by Hanmi Pharmaceutical (759.6 billion won), Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical (717.8 billion won) and Daewoong Pharmaceutical (668.2 billion won).

By Sohn Ji-young (
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Korea Herald daum