What to expect from South Korea’s pharma scene in the next 5 years?

The pharmaceutical market in South Korea is rapidly expanding and is expected to reach more than USD20 billion by 2020. This amount is set to enhance its foundation in the next five years to become a global biotech and pharmaceutical hub. The sector is also expected to be supported by a growing demand for healthcare services, advanced treatment and technological innovation.

Growing demand for healthcare across the nation

South Korea’s dense population ensures a strong availability of patients. Currently, its healthcare system provides universal coverage and this is implemented through clusters of technologically advanced hospitals which are concentrated in large cities such as Seoul, Busan, and Incheon.

As a result, you can expect things to pick up in the recruitment space as more organisations struggle to manage large volumes of daily patient traffic, adopt innovative technologies, and enhance treatment solutions that are made available to its population.

What are the plans in place?

  • Increasing its global footprint

In order to achieve its goal of becoming one of the biggest pharmaceutical hubs in the world, it is important for the country to embrace overseas collaboration. According to an article by the Pharma Boardroom, Kim Hye-seon, director general of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Global Healthcare Bureau notes that “2019 marks the 10th year since Korea began sending hospitals overseas. Now is the time to set the direction for the next 10 years.”

Apart from strengthening ties with the United States (U.S) through the Free Trade Agreement (FTA),  South Korea is also enhancing its cooperation with the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the pharmaceutical industry. Korean pharmaceutical companies have taken greater awareness of export products and embracing technological cooperation agreements with the region.

Alteogen has established a joint venture in Malaysia for developing biosimilars, and other Korean companies have also been actively expanding their business in Thailand and Singapore, according to the Korea Biomedical Review,

  • Simplifying regulatory processes

With greater overseas exposure, challenges may surface when it comes to regulatory processes. Carrying out clinical trials in other countries often involves having to deal with foreign — and sometimes unfamiliar — regulatory authorities. This process has now been made faster with the goal being to get trials approved 30 days from the date of submission.

This procedure allows sponsors to simultaneously submit trial requests to institutional review boards (IRBs), reducing the time lags for approval. This is an attractive proposition to pharma companies that continue to struggle with costly and time-consuming delays in clinical research. According to Novotech, the average time to set up a clinical trial research is now 152 days, compared to the global average of 224 days in Korea.

  • Embracing innovation, research and development (R&D)

The Korean pharmaceutical industry has been accelerating investments in open innovation and focusing on R&D for entry into the overseas markets. There has been a 16 percent increase in R&D investment by global pharmaceutical manufacturers that operate in Korea year on year. This will encompass not only new medicines, but also platform technologies, medical devices, and modified drugs.

To date, South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has approved 26 new domestically developed drugs and boasts the world’s first monoclonal antibody biosimilar, also known as Celltrion’s Inflectra. Other investments in place include:

  • Boryung Pharmaceutical said that it will inject around 7 percent into R&D in 2020.
  • Daewoong Pharmaceutical last year invested 96 billion in R&D, which accounts for 11 percent of its sales. USD59 billion will also be invested to establish its new R&D centre called “connected collaboration & development centre” in Seoul.
  • Samsung Bioepis also announced that it will allocate USD152 billion to establish a new R&D centre in Songdo, Incheon. The firm is also receiving USD370 million in up-front payments in a commercialisation deal for two of its biosimilar candidates with U.S. company Biogen Inc.

What is the talent market looking like in the next 5 years?

The pharmaceutical industry in South Korea will remain to be one of the country’s highest value-added industries and talent will be needed to support and sustain this growth. A growing number of South Korean companies are adopting artificial intelligence (AI) systems as part of their hiring process to save time and reduce human bias, and some of the nation's most prominent employers have joined this latest job market trend.

According to Yonhap News, Genesis Lab, a Seoul-based startup with a focus on "emotion recognition AI" has collaborated with LG Electronics Inc. and LG Uplus Corp to adopt its "Viewinter HR Solution" in its 2019 recruiting process. It is the first time affiliates of a major South Korean conglomerate have adopted AI interviews in their regular hiring process.

South Koreans are also placing increased importance on work life balance opportunities that companies can offer. Other top values include meritocracy for development and performance, as well as a good company culture.

Leading by example, Medtronic Korea – a bioengineering medical equipment maker – applies a variety of performance-based welfare systems such as flexible working hours for the well-being of their employees. Recognised for their company culture, Medtronic Korea won the grand prize for the Great Place To Work (GPTW) Awards, amongst 100 great companies in Korea in 2019.

Are you looking to build your talent pipeline for 2020?

Contact us via the form below to find out more about these opportunities or how other organisations in Korea are implementing their talent strategies. You can also follow us on our LinkedIn page for more industry related insights within the market.


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


What is the value of GMP in tech transfer within the pharma manufacturing industry?

24 Jul 2019

The global pharmaceutical (pharma) industry in Singapore has evolved over the years, shaping the way that new drugs are discovered, manufactured and sold. Today, Singapore is currently competing globally to establish itself as a pharma manufacturing hub.

Top 5 trends that will take over Asia Pacific’s pharma scene in 2020

15 Jan 2020

It has been an exciting year for the pharma industry with greater focus on research and development (R&D), productivity and disruptions of health technology. Find out what's in store for APAC in 2020 here!

How will global trends shake up South Korea’s medical scene?

01 Mar 2019

Amidst the volatile and unpredictable emerging medical markets throughout Asia, South Korea remains fierce in its ambitions to be a world-leading medical hub. Already three months into 2019, we have seen a global push for innovation, higher demand for better services and greater integration of technology within the medical scene.

Back to basics: Preparing for a contracts interview

16 Mar 2020

Are you preparing for an upcoming contracts interview? Not sure where to start? Hear it first from our Real Life Sciences Singapore Contracts team on how you can beat the competition today!