South Korea accelerating growth in pharma and generics?

The South Korean government has committed to further strengthen and stimulate its biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors as the country’s new economic growth drive since 2019. This has already proven much success given that its local pharmaceutical market had continued to expand in the first quarter despite unprecedented times, industry data showed.

As such, we caught up with Insung Cho, Principal Consultant of Real Life Sciences Korea, to find out what the current circumstance looks like for South Korea, and the priorities that the pharma and generics market are taking.


Positive outlook and optimism for South Korea’s pharma industry

According to IQVIA Korea, its domestic pharmaceutical market recorded ₩5 trillion sales in their first quarter, up 5.3 percent from prior year.

In addition, South Korean pharmaceutical exports have always been attractive due to competitive pricing, and this is especially within the generics market. Along with evolving regulations, this has driven a greater number of international companies towards local partnerships even during times of a global pandemic.

Cho has summarised the top 3 priorities for the market now:

  1. Drug development and trials

Nafamostat has been identified as a drug that appears to be more effective in treating COVID-19 than Gilead’s Remdesivir, as announced by a research team at the Institut Pasteur Korea.

In light of this, the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) granted Professor Bae In-gyu of Gyeongsang National University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Department to conduct an open-label, randomised and controlled trial to evaluate the therapeutic effect of ‘Nafamostat Mesylate’ in COVID-19 patients with pneumonia symptoms. The drug is said to reduce blood clotting associated with poor clinical outcomes in seveere COVID019 patients as well as relieve the symptoms of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

The trial will take place at six hospitals across the country – Gyeongsang National University Hospital, Kyungpook National University Hospital, Seoul Medical Center, Dankook University Hospital, Pusan National University Hospital, and Pusan National University Yangsan Hospital.

Since Nafamostat has already been approved in both Japan and Korea as a pancreatitis medication, researchers can skip animal testing which is the standard first part of clinical trials. If the study is a success, Nafamostat could be used to treat COVID-19 at a larger scale in Korea.


  1. Continuous hiring within Specialty Care

Shared by Cho, areas in consistent demand include:

  1. Oncology
  2. Immunology
  3. Rare diseases

In addition, jobs within Medical Affairs such as Medical Science Liaison (MSL) as well as Medical Advisors and Directors will be in demand.

Some of the most sought after candidates include those with Medical Doctor (M.D) titles, PhDs certifications, or qualified Pharmacists.


  1. Upskilling of talent

Pharma, immunocology and oncology are markets which require highly-skilled talent and the required skillsets are becoming more and more varied. Technology is changing the way most businesses operate and the pharma industry is no different – with increasingly sophisticated processes creating a need for new skills.

Upskilling in areas like pharmaceutical data analytics, business operations or technology will put you in greater demand. The Korean Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA) and the Korean Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) have jointly built a Center for Artificial Intelligence (AI) based ‘New Drug Development Facilitation’. This Center also aims to support pharmaceutical companies in developing new drugs using AI. In addition, the Center plans to develop an open AI-based platform for new drug development—allowing pharmaceutical companies to safely and quickly develop new drugs—as well as provide tailored consultation and training to foster experts within pharma.


Looking for further information about the South Korea market?

As we navigate through the course of this pandemic, the job market in South Korea is set to constantly evolve. We aim to keep you as informed and up to date as possible whilst supporting you with your recruitment needs throughout this challenging time – whether it’s to hire or seek a new role. Don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn to receive the latest updates.

If you are looking for the next step in your career, you may also check out available live roles or upload your latest CV here.


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