What makes South Korea an attractive biotech hub for talent?

Woman in Lab

South Korea is the 11th largest economy in the world, with a strong export market and highly-skilled labour force. However, like most Asian countries, they face various constraints that can impede sustainable growth.

From falling birthrates that may worsen its chronic labor shortage, to cross-border tensions that would deteriorate global trade, South Korea faces an uphill struggle to compete with expat hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong.


Intensified competition for global talent

In the Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2019, South Korea ranked 30th in its ability to attract international talent, far behind countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Switzerland.

But why is South Korea’s pharmaceutical and biotech space in particular still attractive to foreign talent?


Biotech sector – a new safeguard for South Korea’s future growth

In our previous article, we shared that the government’s commitment to invest ₩500 billion this year will potentially position the country as a renowned pharma and biotech hub globally. Biotech and the bio-industry have been recognised as one of the future engines for growth in South Korea and is also a key economic driver.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said: “Our government will foster the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors as the country's new economic growth driver, aiming to triple the export and the global market share of pharmaceutical products and medical instruments by 2030.”

The OECD also predicted that the era of the ’bioeconomy’ will arrive in the next 20 to 30 years where biotech-based products will become deeply rooted in our daily lives.

Some of the areas that pose strong potential for biopharmaceutical development include oncology, gastroenterology, and immunology. With these growing sectors, South Korea’s projected growth is expected to reach USD23 billion by 2022 in a report published by GlobalData.


A hotbed of top biotech players including start-ups

Korea’s large biotech firms have always ranked within the top 20 innovative large pharmaceutical companies in the Asia-Pacific region. Below lists the top firms, as well as promising start-ups that you should keep an eye on:

Large firms

  • Celltrion; worldwide marketing, sales, and distribution of biological medicines
  • Samsung Bioepis; biopharmaceutical focused on increasing patients’ access to high-quality medicines through the development of biosimilars
  • Hanmi Pharmaceutical; focused on developing new drug projects and anticancer drugs targeting the global market


Possessing a reputation of having the world’s first stem-cell therapy production, South Korea has established a stronghold in the race for the development and commercialisation of biosimilars.

Nevertheless, talent shortage still remains a concern as supply of jobs exceeds the talent the country can place.


What is South Korea implementing to build its talent pipeline?

  • Attracting foreign talent

In December 2018, the government announced its plan to accept 56,000 foreign workers under the Employment Permit System (EPS) in 2019, in a bid to relieve a labour shortage in the country.

To achieve this aim, South Korea has begun to ease its regulations and immigration policies in 2019 to welcome global talent. Shared by Head of Nationality and Integration Policy at the Korea Immigration Service, Yuh Pok-keun shared:

To keep our economy more competitive, we need to attract more talent from all over the world.”

Foreign talent who enter Korea via the EPS can exercise basic labour rights and receive the same benefits as local workers.

  • Develop local talent

Professional development within the biotechnology sector that is assisted by the government is becoming more active. South Koreans with masters or PhD degrees account for more than 30% of the total number of professionals in Korea.

The country’s success is potentially due to its commitment to higher education. South Korea is amongst the top spenders on education in Asia Pacific, as well as possess the world’s highest enrolments into tertiary education ratio.

GE Healthcare and NIBRT announced on 11th September 2019 that they would be launching a new educational programme on biopharmaceutical and cell therapy development and manufacturing. They are looking to upskill and develop the current workforce by building a new curriculum aimed at meeting the demands of changing technologies. Courses will be offered at GE Healthcare Fast Trak locations, in areas including South Korea, the US, Sweden, China and Singapore.


Are you working within the biotech sector in South Korea?

It is an exciting time for South Korea as the sector is pumped with various investments on research and development. Looking ahead to 2022, the government is also expecting to invest a total of USD2 billion into artificial intelligence. This is also in line with the government’s strategy to integrate the application of technology to drug development.

The drive for biomedical innovation, improving access to healthcare and providing high quality employment in South Korea is likely to continue. If you’d like to find out more about the biotech sector in South Korea, do leave us your contact details through the form below. For more industry-related insights, do visit our website at www.realstaffing.com or follow us on our LinkedIn page.

If you would like to find out more information about the market outlook within the sector, please leave your details below:


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