President Yoon Suk Yeol's Vision of a Bio-Industry Empire


imgTo make South Korea a bio-industry empire, President Yoon Suk Yeol laid out an ambitious plan to increase production to 200 trillion won ($149 billion) by 2035.

Today, many countries are increasingly designating biotechnology as their future growth engine for the amount of significance it carries than ever before. Countries are racing to join an intense global competition to dominate the state-of-the-art bio-healthcare industry. Korea is no exception. The country is showing rapid growth in biotechnology thanks to continuous support in R&D from the public sector and innovation carried out by the private sector. Its President, Yoon Suk Yeol, has been making groundbreaking strides to expand the production size of the nation’s biotech industry. Some of these strategies appeared assuring to some, while others found it distasteful. Nonetheless, the President has been constantly on the edge of his seat, visiting research institutes inside and outside the nation, trying to find ways to direct the focus on areas that need more attention.

Removal of Restriction on Certain Regulations

During a government-public debate at Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province's city, a number of issues affecting people’s livelihoods were discussed in the presence of President Yoon

. With regards to the bio-industry, Yoon gave his word to cut loose a few regulations to allow growth of production, added to an increase in the R&D budget.

He also showcased a few state-of-the-art bio initiatives which involve the latest technical strides associated with artificial intelligence.


Therefore, he will see to it there will be more monetary aid directed towards the field of life-science technology research and development to fullfill the objective.

Building 1000 Life-Science Venture Enterprises

Under his administration, he assured that building an environment encourages the growth of over 1000 life-science venture enterprises each year starting in 2035 to rise from the current 400.

Involving the Mix of Businesses to Lend Financial and Legal Support

Yoon is also looking to install a new campus of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Osong, North Chungcheong Province. To go with biotechnology, Yoon plans to add a few businesses to lend legal and financial support towards it. Eventually, he believes that this could deliver 2.1 trillion won in revenue, with 29,000 new jobs to the cluster.

Direct Talk with Researchers at MIT

During his visit to MIT, Yoon exchanged talks around biomedical research, along with the principles of technology-driven innovation clusters, with the faculty and officials of the institute. He acknowledged South Korea’s strong legal and corporate systems, including hospitals, research and educational institutions. But, what the nation still hopes to build its strength in is biomedical innovation, to which he compared the one just like Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Kendall Square neighborhood. Why? As there is a good mix of various activities. On one side, there are startups; on the other, businesses, academic research, and flexible investment capital that support the bioscience activity in tandem.

Not only that, Yoon also got to see the MIT Cryo-Electron Microscopy Facility.nano, which examines the structure of molecules and other organic materials to almost atom-level precision. Later, a number of presentations from MIT spoke on the various facets of biotechnology and innovation.

Once, Yoon even visited the White House in the US to discuss ways to deepen the 70-year partnership between the two nations, particularly on security and economic issues. Duing his discussion, he announced that his administration is considering boosting the investments in science and technology on a continuous basis.

Change of Strategy Shocks Scientists

The South Korean government took its scientists by surprise when it proposed to cut the research spending by 10.9 percent this year. It plans to execute this by shifting resources to a slew of new initiatives leaning more on building rockets, pursuing high-risk biomedical research and a US-style biotech innovation ecosystem just like the one in Boston.

The officials believe that this is a dramatic restructuring. But it puts its faith in hoping to end the decade-long increase in science spending, which has shaped the nation’s research efforts into a global force. Hence, they perceive this move to curb the growing budget deficits and direct the focus on the major productive fields. One goal the science ministry wishes to focus on is to create innovative global top strategic search groups that can generate groundbreaking results.

Researchers’ Reactions Seem Anxious

A lot of researchers expressed being anxious about the plan, which is due for approval by the National Assembly by the year's end. The reason for that is the budget details still remain murky, with some pointing towards President Yoon’s administration making minimal efforts to consult with searchers.

Recently, South Korea has been investing a lot in science, with government and private investments in R&D, totaling up to 3.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), compared to 4.9 percent in 2022.

But mid last year, Yoon signaled the tightening of the government’s support through industrial R&D spending in hopes of maintaining that strength. With a request from the ministries side to modestly increase the spending in science, Yoon ensured the research budgets be overhauled starting from zero. Additionally, he encouraged the ministers to confront what he called “predatory interest cartels” in the research community.

Some believe that Yoon was referring to initiatives that provide grants to institutes, small companies and few academics regardless of competitive review or much governmental control.

The same year, when South Korea’s State Council adopted the budget, it was viewed to be one done in haste. It includes 25.9 trillion won ($ 19.5 billion) for science and engineering to boost spending areas in AI, semiconductors and space launch technologies. However, the basic research funding was observed to be reduced to 6.2 percent and the funding for national research institutes, including KAIST and IBS at 9.4 percent.

This leads to a main question, that is, whether the institutes that are responsible for conducting the majority of the nation’s basic research will be given a chance to share their opinion on this. Some fear that it might be hard on younger researchers, by referring to one program which says termination provides annual grants of about 70 million won to virtually all academic researchers, for instance.

Also, there are growing tensions observed among science and engineering students that careers are less stable and less lucrative than those in other fields.

The Boston-Korean project is expected to receive 60.5 billion won this year, aiming to forge links between Korean and Boston-area research institutions. However, experts caution it is not possible to make a huge biotech cluster out of the blue in such a short time. A long-term plan is needed, which some of the experts feel is the need of the hour.

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