South Korea: Emerging global leader in life sciences

Market Access
life sciences South Korea

South Korea has designated life sciences and biotechnology as priority areas for growth and leadership. The country is experiencing rapid growth in biotechnology thanks to continuous public and private sector investment and extensive R&D activity. With its technologically advanced infrastructure, strong government support, and innovative research capabilities, South Korea has emerged as a major player in the global life sciences industry.

In recent years, the country has witnessed rapid growth in both domestic and foreign investments in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and healthcare services. This has created ample opportunities for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and multinational corporations to tap into the potential of this thriving market.

Overview of the South Korean life sciences industry

South Korea's life sciences industry has experienced significant growth in recent years, fuelled by its advanced research capabilities, strong intellectual property protection, and robust regulatory framework. The country boasts a well-established ecosystem comprising research institutes, universities, and private companies that are at the forefront of scientific and technological advancements.

The government's commitment to fostering a robust life sciences business environment and promoting R&D initiatives has laid the groundwork for the development of cutting-edge technologies and breakthrough medical advancements. The Korean government announced the following five key tasks in February 2023 to create new bio-health markets:

  1. Promoting innovation in medical, health, and caring services
  2. Boosting bio-health export
  3. Strengthening R&D in convergence of cutting-edge technology, including AI
  4. Nurturing talent in the bio-health industry, expanding support for start-ups and venture companies
  5. Establishing related laws, regulations, and other infrastructures

This initiative is designed to respond to the current paradigm shift in medicine that is pivoting to comprehensive patient-centric healthcare services that cover medicine and healthcare, while keeping up with progress in digital technology and technology convergence.1

Factors driving life sciences investment in South Korea

Several key factors contribute to the rapid growth of life sciences investment in South Korea. Firstly, the country has a highly skilled and educated workforce, with a strong emphasis on STEM education. This ensures a steady supply of talent to fuel innovation and research in the life sciences sector.

Secondly, South Korea's advanced infrastructure and research facilities provide a solid foundation for scientific research and development. The country boasts state-of-the-art laboratories, research centres, and specialised medical institutions that support the discovery and commercialisation of new medical technologies.

Additionally, South Korea's strategic geographical location and its strong network of international collaborations make it an ideal hub for global life sciences companies looking to expand their presence in Asia. The country's proximity to major markets, such as China and Japan, further enhances its appeal as a regional life sciences investment destination.

Government support and policies for life sciences companies

The South Korean government plays a crucial role in driving the growth of the life sciences industry through its comprehensive support and favourable policies. The government has established various funding programmes and grants to encourage research and development activities in the life sciences sector.

One of the flagship initiatives is the Ministry of Science and ICT's Bio-Venture Support Program, which provides financial support and resources to early-stage life sciences start-ups. This programme aims to nurture innovative ideas and technologies, helping start-ups navigate the complex process of commercialisation and market entry.

The South Korean government has stated four primary objectives:

  1. Strengthen R&D capabilities – Expanding R&D investment to develop global medicines
  2. Support export – Increasing biopharma investment and support for export of biomedical products
  3. Nurture human resources – Fostering talent in biopharma and technology convergence
  4. Improve regulations and infrastructure – Reforming the regulatory framework to match the global level and expanding supply chain infrastructure2

Furthermore, the government has implemented tax incentives and regulatory reforms to attract both domestic and foreign investors. These measures include tax credits for R&D investments, streamlined approval processes for clinical trials and drug registrations, and enhanced intellectual property protection.

Key players in the South Korean life sciences sector

South Korea is home to a vibrant ecosystem of key players in the life science industry, including established pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, and start-ups. Some of the prominent players in the sector include LG Chem, Samsung Biologics, Celltrion, Green Cross Corporation, and Hanmi Pharmaceutical.

LG is laying the foundation for its future growth with focus on the three key areas of AI, Biotech, and Cleantech. LG Chem Life Sciences, a subsidiary of LG Chem and an intended driver of its long term growth, is engaged in the development, manufacture, and global commercialisation of biopharmaceutical products.

Samsung Biologics, a subsidiary of the Samsung Group, is one of the world's largest contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs) for biopharmaceuticals. The company offers a wide range of services, including cell-line development, process development, and clinical and commercial manufacturing.

Celltrion, another major player, is a biopharmaceutical company known for its biosimilar products. The company has gained international recognition for its biosimilar versions of drugs used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Green Cross Corporation is a leading biotechnology company that specialises in the development and production of vaccines, plasma derivatives, and recombinant proteins. The company has a strong presence in both domestic and international markets.

Hanmi Pharmaceutical is a research-driven pharmaceutical company that focuses on developing novel drugs for the treatment of cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. The company has a robust pipeline of innovative drug candidates and has entered into numerous strategic partnerships with global pharmaceutical companies.

Opportunities in South Korea for life sciences start-ups

Investors looking to capitalise on the South Korean life sciences sector can explore opportunities in areas such as biotechnology, precision medicine, digital health, and medical devices. Start-ups in these sectors are leveraging cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and genomics, to develop innovative solutions that address unmet medical needs.

Several start-up incubators and accelerators, such as Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) and Seoul Bio Hub, provide a supportive environment for early-stage life sciences companies. These organisations offer mentorship, funding, and networking opportunities to help start-ups grow and succeed.

Resources and networks for life sciences companies in South Korea

South Korea offers a wide range of resources and networks to support life sciences investors. Organisations such as the Korean Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI) and the Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA) provide valuable industry insights, market intelligence, and networking opportunities.

Investors can also leverage the strong network of research institutes and universities in South Korea. These institutions collaborate with industry players and offer access to cutting-edge research and technologies. Building relationships with researchers and scientists can provide investors with unique investment opportunities and insights into emerging trends.

Furthermore, South Korea hosts various industry conferences, trade shows, and networking events that bring together key stakeholders in the life sciences sector. Attending these events can help investors stay updated on the latest industry developments, connect with potential partners, and explore investment opportunities.

The future of life sciences in South Korea

South Korea's life sciences landscape is poised for continued growth and innovation. With its advanced research capabilities, strong government support, and favourable business environment, the country offers attractive opportunities for investors in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and healthcare services.

As the global demand for innovative medical technologies continues to rise, South Korea's life sciences sector is well-positioned to meet these needs. The country's focus on emerging fields, such as regenerative medicine, precision medicine, and genetic engineering, further enhances its potential for groundbreaking discoveries and commercial success.

Investors should carefully evaluate the investment landscape, consider the challenges and risks, and leverage the available resources and networks to make informed investment decisions. By capitalising on the opportunities presented by South Korea's dynamic life sciences sector, investors can contribute to the advancement of healthcare and reap substantial rewards in the process.


1. Build Bio-Health Industry into a Future Growth Engine through Expansion of Exports, March 24, 2023
2. Korea’s Biotech Industry, Emerging as a Global Manufacturing Hub of Cutting-Edge Biotechnology, June 2, 2023

Michael P Bailey
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Michael P Bailey