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Korea to build mega biomedical database by 2028

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki looks at a walking assist robot for Parkinson's disease patients at Seoul National University’s Medical Research Center for Innovation in Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki looks at a walking assist robot for Parkinson's disease patients at Seoul National University’s Medical Research Center for Innovation in Seoul, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The government will spend some 1 trillion won ($894.8 million) on building a mega database to collect medical information of 1 million people in a bid to foster the biohealth industry as a new growth engine, officials said Wednesday.

“In response to the rapidly changing biotechnology industry environment, we will provide all-round support, such as R&D intensive investment in core technologies, including new drugs and innovative medical devices; commercialization support; expansion of clinical infrastructure and fostering of professional manpower,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said at a meeting with government officials on innovative growth held at Seoul National University’s Medical Research Center for Innovation in Seoul.

Planned to be established by 2028, the so-called Bio Data Dam will encompass a large volume of biohealth information on 400,000 cancer patients and those with rare incurable diseases, as well as 600,000 volunteers.

The project aims to produce high-quality genome data and to establish a data tracking and feedback system in order to feed drug development and medical applications.

Some 41 billion won was allocated this year for a pilot project, and a preliminary feasibility study is set to be wrapped up by June. In the six years from 2023, the government will spend 987.8 billion won for the big database.

According to the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the country’s biohealth exports have shown a high annual growth of about 40 to 50 percent since last year. The number of pharmaceutical and biotech companies with sales exceeding 1 trillion won also doubled from six in 2018 to 12 in 2020.

“As seen in the development and roll-out process of COVID-19 vaccines, it is possible for a technology leader to play a winner-takes-all game in the biohealth industry, which means technological competition, a race against time and all-out support are very important,” Hong said.

He added that the country’s ambitions in becoming a global vaccine hub is taking shape as Moderna and AstraZeneca have signed contract manufacturing deals to produce COVID-19 vaccines here.

“At the same time, we are also spurring the development of homegrown vaccines to achieve vaccine sovereignty,” he said.

In order to foster the medical device industry, two additional regional education and training centers will be established in the metropolitan area and in the non-metropolitan area, respectively. Medical device businesses in key sectors such as in vitro diagnosis, dental and diagnostic imaging will also get pan-ministerial support.

It also plans to establish an international medical device certification support center from 2022 to support the overseas expansion of the medical device industry.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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