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Korean pharmas eye China

Korean pharma and biopharma companies are considering the inevitable: the advance to the Chinese market.

According to Korea Health Industry Development Institute, Friday, China was the second biggest market for pharmaceuticals after the US in 2018.

The Chinese pharma market was set at $142.7 billion, still a far cry from the US at $361.5 billion. Japan trailed in third place at $108 billion and Germany at $71.7 billion. Korea ranked No. 13 worldwide at $17.4 billion. 


Yuhan Corp., one of Korea’s oldest pharmaceuticals company, established a business entity in Hong Kong in December 2018 as a foot in the door to China.

Celltrion, the biosimilar development firm with the greatest capital injected to research and development among Korean pharmas last year, also created a body in Hong Kong in May 2018.

Celltrion plans to erect a biopharmaceuticals production facility in China together with Nan Fung Group.

Samsung Bioepis, the biopharmaceuticals development arm of Samsung BioLogics, is carrying out clinical trials in China with Chinese bio company 3Sbio and venture fund management firm C-Bridge Capital.

Making inroads to China is not easy, however, as the speed at which the country is moving forward with its own health care development is faster than anticipated, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Chinese government has ambitious goals to independently develop 20 novel chemical drugs and three novel bio drugs by 2020.

A biopharmaceutical typically takes some 10 years to develop by the industry average.

In order to achieve its goal, China is slashing various regulations that hinder industry growth, while making aggressive investments.

This is in line with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s “Made in China 2025” policy that aims to reestablish China’s image from the world’s “factory” to a place where higher value products and services originate.

The support to the biopharma sector is most prominent in genomics, neuroscience, nano bio technology and telecommunication infrastructure for remote telemedicine.

To the contrary, experts point to ubiquitous hurdles in the Korean regulatory system for biopharmaceuticals.

A Swiss-based venture capitalist told The Korea Herald that foreign investors are turning to China due to the incredible growth potential of the market there, but that Korea still remains an attractive target due to the level of advanced science.

Another expert from the industry said that in order for Korea to compete against China, a matching governmental effort is needed in terms of regulatory relief.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (