As a major player in the machinery, electronics and telecommunications markets, South Korea’s thriving biotechnology industry has been making headlines over the past few years. Home to hundreds of biopharma companies, the sector sees ₩2.8 trillion ($2.14 billion) worth of investment, according to 2021 statistics.
One of the largest contract drug developers, Samsung Biologics, headquartered in Incheon, South Korea, alone is valued at over $40 billion, and is currently expanding its global market in Europe and the US.
As the country looks to diversify its production amid strained relations between the US and China, the biotech industry in South Korea aims to be more self-sufficient by developing its own raw materials rather than buying cheaper sources from China, a change we may be able to make. watch in the coming years.
While many South Korean biotechs have secured funding to advance their products and drug candidates in the past year, here are six companies that are pioneering in the country’s biotech arena.
Undrugable targets are so called because they are considered too challenging to bind to drug molecules. And around 3000 targets are incurable, making therapeutic studies more limited. Cyrus Therapeutics wants to change that.
With the goal of defeating incurable targets, the company focuses on targeted protein degradation and antibody recruitment molecules (ARMs) – molecules capable of enhancing antibody binding.
The company is developing small molecules that target immunosuppression in tumors, which can be administered as monotherapy and in combination with other cancer therapies to increase their efficacy. In addition, the company also implements synthetic lethality in target drug scoping, especially for patients with BRCA1/2 mutations. Synthetic death occurs when mutations in two genes cause cell death unlike mutations in just one gene. Therefore, identifying inactive genes in cancer cells and targeting other genes in the pair can be effective in treating certain cancers.
With seven drug candidates in development and in preclinical stages, Cyrus Therapeutics specializes in therapy for haematological cancers and solid tumors.
The South Korea-based biotechnology company was founded in 2019 in Seoul, and has received a total of ₩39 billion ($29.96 million) in funding over two investment rounds. The latest round, which took place in January 2022 and raised $24.1 million, involved participation from investment firms including Atinum Investment, Paratus Investment and Mirae Asset Capital.
Founded in the capital city of Seoul in 2019, Gencellmed is the first startup to launch in the New Medicines Division at the Korea Institute of Radiological & Medical Sciences (KIRAMS). The company is focused on developing oncolytic viruses in an approach to deliver genes to cancer cells and kill them.
Its Synthetic & Multi-Antigen Retargeting Technology (SMART) Platform can be utilized to target 12 types of cancer including pancreatic, breast, ovarian, stomach, prostate and breast cancer – the most common type of cancer of which 300,590 new cases are estimated to occur worldwide. US only, this year.
The engineered molecules are involved in both local attack on cancer cells and activation of the immune system to fight cancer cells. SMART GCM molecules bind to biomarkers on the target cell surface and replicate inside the cell. As a result, the immune system is activated where chemokines and cytokines are sent to the region to attack cells.
Leading the way in clinical research is GCM-101 for the treatment of ovarian cancer which is currently in the preclinical stage followed by GCM-201 for pancreatic cancer in its discovery and development phase. GCM-101 is not only able to target cancer cells and invade tumors but also can enhance tumor specificity to protect ordinary cells.
Last year, Gencellmed was granted a Dual Targeting patent for its platform technology and raised $4.58 million in a series A round.
As biotechs apply the therapeutic potential of the micromiobiome to develop treatments for a number of diseases, Liveome, a South Korean company based in the city of Suwonjoin the bandwagon in 2021.
Liveome has designed a live biotherapeutic product (LBP), which is a biological product containing living organisms. In the process, the company is advancing two drug candidates, E-LBP and N-LBP – both in preclinical stages – with a particular focus on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer therapy.
As part of its IBD program, the company’s treatment targets Crohn’s disease, which is characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract, and ulcerative colitis, inflammation of the large intestine. Due to current treatment challenges, due to limited drug response, high recurrence rate and side effects, Liveome’s E-LBP drug consists of high efficiency therapeutic strains which can continuously express therapeutic targets in the gut.
Subsequently, its N-LBP platform has been developed as a combination therapy to treat cancer. The anti-cancer strain has been selected from the Liveome library of immunomodulators to maximize cancer drug tumor suppression in the microenvironment.
Last year, Liveome raised ₩7 billion ($5.345 million) in a series A funding round led by Lindeman Asia Investment.
As the global polymerase chain reaction (PCR) industry will reach $29.22 billion by 2029, NuriBio aims to contribute to the boom. Headquartered in the city of Anyang in South Korea, the biotech company’s PROMER technology, an ultra-specific DNA amplification platform for real-time PCR, consists of hybrid primers. It has a primer – which serves as a starting point for DNA synthesis – and a probe – which identifies the target sequence.
With the ability to detect more than four targets with the help of fluorophores, PROMER can discriminate between point mutations and mRNAs, and has a detection limit of up to 0.01%. Powered by PROMER, is the KRAS Ctrl mutation detection kit. KRAS mutations are found in certain types of cancer – including non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer – in which the KRAS oncogene is mutated.
The mutation detection kit is said to be able to accurately detect KRAS codon mutations at the same location using only four wells and distinguishing 12 types of point mutations.
Founded in 2014, NuriBio has previously raised $3.6 million in series A funding rounds as well as ₩1.8 billion ($1.37 million) in government R&D grants. The company frequently partners with US-based institute Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and German multinational Bayer and has collaborated on R&D projects with Rutgers University in the US and the University of Basel in Switzerland.
Set to make its mark in South Korea’s synthetic biology industry this year, SeaWith cultivates meat without slaughter from animal cell cultures. But unlike other farmed beef companies that use fetal bovine serum (FBS) as a growth supplement, Seawith opted for a more cost-effective approach. One of them involves the use of seaweed.
Replacing FBS by 80%, the company’s seaweed culture media is fed to cells which helps cell growth. SeaWith has created a seaweed scaffold that allows cells to form well-defined tissue structures. The cells are then incubated, and meat is produced, which is said to be on par with cattle beef in thickness and texture.
As a member of the South Korean Technology Incubator Program for Startups, the biotechnology company is looking to quickly bring its product, Welldone, to commercial scale.
Founded four years ago in the city of Daegu, the company was recently funded by $5.6 million in a series A round taking place in 2022. Its most recent investors are Mint Venture Partners and Dayli Partners.
The leading cause of death globally, cardiovascular disease claims an estimated 17.9 million lives each year, according to the World Health Organization. With a mission to improve vascular function, Seoul-based Vasthera has discovered the potential of peroxiredoxin (Prx), a naturally occurring antioxidant enzyme as a modulator of receptor signaling, which is often silenced in clogged arteries, cancer cells, and brain regions. associated with neurodegeneration.
Prx inactivation is caused by increased hydrogen peroxide levels during inflammation. Vasthera found that mimicking the catalytic activity of Prx could target inflammatory conditions. The company’s drug discovery platform Redoxizyme does just that. By developing a variety of nanozymes that could act as Prx, he was able to regulate hydrogen peroxide in cells. Biofarma has three programs on track. Most advanced in studies is VTA-04 for treating pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH). PAH, a rare cardiac condition, occurs when increased proliferation of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells causes remodeling of the pulmonary vessels. VTA-04 normalizes injured pulmonary arteries by regulating the number of pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells.
The company is also developing VTC-05 for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) and VTN-04 for neurodegenerative diseases.
Winner of this year’s Ministerial (Ministry of SMEs and Startups) award at the 2022 Korea Association of Business Incubation Awards, the biotech company has secured ₩23.5 billion ($17.94 million) in funding over two rounds. The latest round sees participation from companies such as Daesung Private Equity and Medytox Venture Investment among others, in 2022.