Will South Korea become Asia’s next pharmaceutical and manufacturing hub ?


South Korea has been investing in its pharmaceutical industry to be one of its growth engines for its future. To facilitate expansion of the industry, the government has been placing emphasis on enhancing growth potential through policy measures ranging from technology innovation to market transparency, boosting the global competitiveness of companies, and establishing infrastructure for sustainable development.


Strategies in place to support sustainable development within the pharmaceutical & manufacturing market

There is strong support and collaboration with the government, industry experts, medical society, and the academic community who are committing efforts to strengthen South Korea's presence in the global pharmaceutical markets. With an aging population, the South Korean government has developed a keen interest in the pharmaceutical industry, which serves as a foundation for the public's quality of life.

South Korea has also recently decided to provide practical support to innovative pharmaceutical companies by revising their existing health insurance benefits system. 

We spoke with Insung Cho, our Sales Team Manager, who shared the prospects of the sector in South Korea.

Here are the top strategies South Korea is planning to adopt to promote the growth in their pharmaceutical, medical device, and life sciences industries by 2030.


Building a strong foundation of its pharmaceutical manufacturing hub

According to data from the Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS), there are currently about 350 facilities in South Korea producing finished drug products.

Most of the country’s pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities operate in three provinces, the biggest of which is Gyoenggi. Incheon, a bustling transport hub that borders the capital of Seoul, is also located in the Gyoenggi province and is poised to play a starring role in the country’s ambitions for biopharma expansion.

Incheon Metropolitan City government has announced plans to expand its Songdo Global Biotech Cluster, already a sprawling site with 60 different companies and institutions, into a “world-level global biotech hub.” Under the plan, the government hopes to expand the Songdo Cluster to encompass an area of 2,381,000 square meters with capacity for 560,000 litres of biopharma products by 2030.


How will this impact demand for talent within pharmaceutical manufacturing?

With the expansion of the biotech cluster, the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) plans to increase the number of people working in bio-related companies from its current 5,000 to 20,000. Currently, Celltrion and Samsung Bioepis already operate facilities in the Songdo Cluster and their presence has played a role in attracting further investments from global pharmaceutical companies. Songdo International City houses Samsung Biologics, which mass produces the Moderna vaccine, and 60 companies researching, manufacturing, and providing services related to the bio-healthcare industry. SK Bioscience will begin construction of its headquarters and vaccine R&D facilities in Songdo in 2022.


New preferential drug pricing policy

South Korea’s pharmaceutical market is expected to grow with increasing investments in the industry, in addition to its rising elderly population that demands drugs much quicker in order to treat diseases of high burden.

However, high out-of-pocket expenditure has been a barrier to patients seeking expensive and innovative treatments. As such, a preferential drug pricing policy can bring some relief to patients by improving access to essential treatments, provided insurance payers expand their coverage of such drugs.

Thus, South Korea formulated the preferential drug pricing system under the Special Act on the Promotion and Support of the Pharmaceutical Industry. Whilst this remains a domestic initiative, the government will start related research in 2022 to make the system suitable for international trade orders.

This initiative aims to improve patients’ access to essential drugs by adopting new systems, and it is of great interest to see how the preferential drug pricing policy will be an attractive proposition for pharmaceutical companies. A balanced pricing policy that promotes a competitive environment will help pharmaceutical companies in developing more innovative treatments.


Managing innovative pharmaceutical companies and forging partnerships

As time progresses, the pharmaceutical industry have seen massive progress when partnerships and investments are forged within the sector. South Korea’s pharmaceutical companies are sharing their own experiences in the global market with local pharmaceutical companies by jointly expanding into overseas markets. Through these partnerships, global companies can help local companies to reduce any setbacks and successfully branch out into the global market.

South Korea is taking advantage of “double bottom-line” businesses—referring to businesses which are profitable while having a positive social impact. These companies are known to be profitable and are making a difference in the way they improve healthcare through innovation, strategic partnerships and investments in technology, all whilst speeding up the transformation of lives and reinventing healthcare.

Below are some examples to name a few:


  • Sylvan Group partnerships:

Sylvan Group—the private equity firm co-founded by Chung Kyungsun—will be investing SGD140.5 million to take on majority stakes in four healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in Singapore, namely:


  • Janssen and Yuhan Pharmaceutical
    • Janssen and Yuhan Pharmaceutical have a collaboration agreement on technology export for co-development and commercialisation of lung-cancer medicine ‘Lazertinib’


  • MSD partnerships:
    • Samsung Bioepis: MSD’s collaboration agreement for global commercialisation of biosimilar products with Samsung Bioepis
    • Dong-A ST: Co-promotion of ‘Tedizolid’, an antibiotic for super bacteria, in overseas markets (America and Europe)
    • Hanmi Pharmaceutical: Investment in R&D of ‘Cozaar XQ’, a combined treatment for hypertension, and a partnership for exporting it to over 50 countries
    • ‘Innovation Partnering Office’ at Seoul Bio Hub: Counselling office for start-ups in Bio-Digital health industry


  • Mundipharma Korea and Genewel
    • Mundipharma’s collaboration with Genewel for licensing, distribution and promotion of Medifoam®, a moist wound dressing product


  • Zuellig Pharma Korea partnerships:
    • Boryung Pharmaceutical: Exclusive licensing agreement for antihypertensive combination drugs Dukarb in 13 Southeast Asian countries, following ‘Kanarb’ and ‘Kanarb Plus’ with Zuellig Pharma Korea.
    • Handok: Export agreement for “Ketotop” (Ketoprofen patch) in Singapore and Malaysia


Advanced Regenerative Bio Act to support innovation in biopharma

Established in 2020, the Advanced Regenerative Bio Act was legislated to provide medical institutions with standards for self-assessment of risks when devising research plans.

For clinical trials’ studies in the advanced regenerative medicine, it also helps institutions in specifying regulations on research plan documentation, submission methods, and required documents amongst other matters. This is with regards to application procedures and methods for research plan reviews which will ensure efficacy, safety, and ethical legitimacy of research plans for any advanced regenerative medicine.

By strengthening the management system suited for the characteristics of advanced biopharmaceuticals, South Korea can set higher standards for facilities and build trust with its partners in establishing manufacturing, storage, and labs. This will also improve its procedures for selecting products or drugs that require long-term monitoring and will assist in investigations for adverse cases, and for registering dosage records.


High growth in clinical trials

President of the Korean National Enterprise for Clinical Trials (KoNECT), Deborah Chee shared that global companies like the speed and quality they get from performing clinical trials in South Korea. Its population density ensures a strong availability of patients, and the South Korean healthcare system provides universal coverage via clusters of technologically advanced hospitals concentrated in large cities such as Seoul, Busan, and Incheon.

Hospitals in these cities are monitored continuously by the government through accreditation and evaluation programmes. With 66 hospitals per million people, South Korea ranks second among the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) members. With that, one can expect rapid rates of hiring optimised by healthy recruitment practices to meet the large volumes of daily patient traffic.

Major clinical trial sites are now using those electronic medical records (EMRs) to perform clinical trial feasibility assessments. Medical experts are also developing clinical data retrieval systems (CDRS) that enable queries of anonymous EMR data and assessments of pool sizes of eligible patients.


Do you work in South Korea’s pharmaceutical and manufacturing industry?

Currently, the country’s pharmaceutical market is estimated by GlobalData to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.8% to reach a value of USD34.3 billion in 2025. This sparks great optimism in the sector’s growth and opportunities in the next five years and counting.

If you wish to find out more about professionals within the pharmaceutical and manufacturing sector, have hiring needs or wish to access market insight on South Korea’s booming pharmaceutical scene, please reach out to us via the form below and a dedicated specialist consultant will be in touch with you.

Alternatively, if you are a professional looking for a job change in South Korea, feel free to reach out via the form below for some of the latest or most confidential roles. You may also look at available openings on our job search page.


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