[INTERVIEW] Korea should open bio-related big data to private sector
Biden's signature Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), aimed at bolstering Washington's efforts to re-engage Indo-Pacific nations on trade and technologies, was officially launched with Korea's participation. But this time, the prime targets of cooperation are cutting-edge technologies such as semiconductors, batteries, biotechnology, biomanufacturing and artificial intelligence (AI), all of which are critical from a national security standpoint. Korea is home to the world's top two memory chipmakers ― Samsung Electronics and SK hynix. The protracted COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge plus for helping Korea expand its presence in the bio industry. About half of the 10 most valuable companies on the tech-heavy Kosdaq index come from the biotech sector. Now, the bio industry is considered to be as strategically important as the semiconductor and battery industries.
"If skilled workers such as medical and AI experts are nurtured and regulations in the bio-health field are eased, it will be a step closer to internationalization in line with the World Health Organization's (WHO) recent designation of Korea as a global bio-talent hub. Choi, who is also chairman of the Korea Stem Cell Clinics Society (KSCCS), said Korea needs to create a dedicated organization to minimize administrative regulations and provide support. Choi said the biotech industry faces good opportunities as well as challenges from big data. Policymakers are set to explore necessary factors to help the country progress in bio-related industries. Citing the recent WHO announcement that Korea will host a new global bio-manufacturing training hub, Yoon asked the government to ease regulations on biotech startups, increase state-level financial backing and promote the industry. "I believe the biohealth industry sector, an area in which speed is crucial for innovation, could grow successfully if the government implements a biohealth sector-specific regulatory sandbox as quickly as possible," Choi said.
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A "regulatory sandbox" is a system that temporarily authorizes innovative technologies or businesses, allowing firms to test their products in a real market. On a related note, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently identified a lack of skilled workers and stifling regulatory systems as the key barriers to Korea's goal of becoming a global manufacturing hub. "The Korean biotech industry, especially stem cell technology, is losing its competitiveness in the global market because of existing regulations. According to his observation, more than 300,000 people, including Koreans, visit Japan annually to receive "NK Cell Treatment" because Korea prohibits its own companies from receiving cell therapy fees. "If we implement a 'Foreigner Special Act' for cell therapy as we did for the 'Overseas Patient Attraction Act,' we could attract more foreigners for medical tourism," he said, adding that the government should hold programs such as biotech-related conferences, exhibitions and forums to attract more foreign investments. "The digital health care and biotech industries could grow more with the government's active support," he added.
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