Surging local demand drives 24% growth of Korean contract service sector

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Nunawwoofy)
(Image: Getty/Nunawwoofy)

Related tags: South korea, Kosdaq

South Korean contract service market grows 24% as local biopharma companies step up spending.

South Korean Trade group KoreaBio worked with the country’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy to assess how contract research and manufacturing organizations (CROs/CMOs) performed in 2018. The project entailed polling 993 Korean companies over a five-month period last year.

The Korea Herald published​ details of the report, a Korean-language version of which was released late last year.

In the report, KoreaBio revealed that the Korean biologics contract service sector grew 24% in 2018, resulting in it breaking the ₩1trn ($863m) mark for the first time.

Most of the revenues made by Korean CROs and CMOs come from foreign biopharma companies; however, local businesses are driving the growth. In 2018, revenues from Korean drug developers grew 40% to ₩378bn.

The 40% growth covers a boom period for the Korean biotech sector. Over the first four months of 2018, the Korean stock exchange’s pharmaceutical index was consistently up more than 100% over the start of the previous year.

However, the boom peaked in the first half of 2018. Since then, a series of setbacks for Korean drug developers have dented confidence.

Helixmith, HLB Company, Kolon Life Science and Sillajen all posted clinical trial data that disappointed investors in 2019, sending their share prices spiralling downward. Today, the Kosdaq Pharmaceutical Index is down close to 50% on the highs it hit during 2018.

The downturn in the performance of pharmaceutical stocks on Kosdaq could hurt Korean CROs and CMOs, which benefited from increased spending by local drug developers in 2018. However, at this stage it is unclear whether the difficulties faced by Korean biopharma companies in 2019 translated into a slowdown in spending on contract services.

Even if local demand slows, Korean CROs and CMOs’ exposure to global markets means continued growth is possible. Led by Samsung BioLogics, the Korean contract service sector has won business from foreign companies in recent years, putting it in a position to weather fluctuations in business from local drug developers.

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