Make bio-health a future engine of growth

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Kang Dae-hee

The author is a professor at Seoul National University School of Medicine and head of the future development committee.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held in Las Vegas in January, is the largest event of its kind and is organized by the American Consumer Technology Association. Samsung Electronics and other major global companies launch new products and showcase innovative technologies. While the importance of health has been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the field of biohealth is growing. Robert Ford, president of bio-health company Abbott, spoke at this year’s CES, and this year’s event has been dubbed a “health show.” Many new technologies in the field of Covid solutions and telemedicine have been introduced.

Many Korean healthcare companies participated in the show and got good reviews. A sleep apnea treatment device with AI has received particular attention. What strategies do we need for Korean companies with the latest biohealth technologies to successfully enter overseas markets and become industry leaders?

First, we need national level organization and support to support the biohealth industry. Six biohealth tasks were included in the new administration’s 110 national agenda items. But tasks of preparing for the future – such as the development of the biohealth sector – have a lower priority in execution due to outstanding issues that require immediate solutions. Therefore, as the President pointed out, a new governance system to integrate and manage the dispersed jobs in ministries is needed to keep up with the national agenda and progress.

In the previous administration, the Democratic Party established the bio-health headquarters, worked with experts in the biomedical, medical device and digital medicine fields, and proposed plans for regulatory reform and the promotion of industry. The new administration needs to take a close look at the development plan created by the previous administration and decide which areas to prioritize and support. If semiconductors are the key to the fourth industry, DNA is at the heart of the fifth industry. Competitive and promising fields using DNA – such as precision medicine, digital medicine and personalized prevention – should be selected and promoted through systematic support.

Next comes support for the overseas expansion of Korean bio-health companies. An organization aimed at helping the bio-health industry to progress overseas for investment, business matching, tender information, legal and accounting advice for setting up a company and the issuance of visas for employees should be created.

As the medical field is vulnerable to the restrictions of local laws, the role of a government is very important. Just as the U.S. Secretary of Health visited Korea a few years ago to hold an event for U.S. healthcare companies at the U.S. Embassy in Korea, the government’s attention and support are essential.

Just as the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency (Kotra) played a key role when Korean companies expanded overseas in the 1970s, Korean bio-health companies can improve their competitiveness if the ‘Korea Health Industry Development Institute is upgraded to a health industry promotion agency under the Prime Minister’s Office and enjoys systematic support.

The last is manpower training. Korean medical care is world class. Seoul Asan Medical Center was ranked fifth in the world for cancer treatment by Newsweek, and Seoul National University Hospital and Samsung Medical Center also achieved world-class achievements in specific areas. In less than 100 years since the introduction of Western medicine, Korean medicine has risen to the international level thanks to the most talented people who have specialized in the field.

The developer of the sleep apnea therapy device mentioned above is an otolaryngologist who started a business. As this case shows, a systematic manpower training system for medical talent to lead the healthcare and biotechnology fields is needed. New administration Yoon Seok-yeol is preparing for a research-focused medical school project, which may be the key to training medical scientists. At the same time, university hospitals should not only focus on treatment, but also actively pursue the development of the health industry.

During the pandemic, Korea successfully produced coronavirus vaccines within a year thanks to accumulated biotechnology and drastic investments in research. The country will soon produce its first national vaccines against Covid. As digital medicine is growing rapidly with telecommuting and social distancing, new medical technologies using the medical metaverse and blockchain are on the way. The future is in the age of biotechnology.
Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily staff.


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