The bio-industry is emerging as Korea’s future growth industry. Despite its potential, the nation is having difficulty in establishing a cornerstone for the promising sector to thrive due to lack of experience and understanding.
When it comes to gene analysis, however, Theragen Etex Bio Institute is one of the leading domestic companies. Some of Theragen’s most significant feats include becoming the first Korean company to succeed in analyzing individual genomes and identifying Korean gastric cancer gene.
The company currently divides its major platforms – Oncomics, Hellogene, OncoChaser, and Genestyle – into two fields, one for personal genome service (PGS) and next-generation sequencing (NGS) directed at patient suffering from illness such as cancer.
|Hwang Tae-soon, CEO of Theragen Etex Bio Institute, makes his points during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, at his office in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, on Monday.|
“Our PGS, which includes Hellogene and Genestyle, are used by 650 domestic medical institutions and analyzes over 10,000 samples a month,” CEO and President Hwang Tae-soon said in an interview with Korea Biomedical Review on Monday. “We are now exporting our systems to 14 countries and analyzing 1,000 samples monthly.”
Regarding NGS platforms such as Oncomics and OncoChaser, the company handles most of the domestic gene sequencing and analysis jobs, while also managing those of 84 institutes spread out in 47 countries, Hwang added.
Recently, the company has bolstered its exports globally, while also expanding national reach for its various platforms. With such robust business model, the company is set to reach its breakeven point this year.
Comparing Theragen’s technology against other competitors, Hwang noted early detection and biomedical informatics as the company’s advantage. “Ultimately, genetic analysis is all about who can diagnose the illness at an earlier stage,” Hwang said. “In that regard, the company’s “OncoChaser” indicates we have the technology that can specifically amplify the part where the mutation occurred, which is essential for early detection.”
Another strong point of the company is this company uses the biology data received from hospitals and funnels them through an “Illumina” sequencing equipment, which turns things into IT data and integrates it into clinical big data, he added.
However, Hwang stressed that for Korea’s gene analysis to reach its full potential the government has to create an environment where domestic companies can compete on the same level as multinational businesses as well as a clear regulation to guide them.
“I think it is important for companies and governments to cooperate and create a strong ecosystem for the development of bio-industry,” Hwang said. “Currently, positive and negative regulations are mixed and unclear, and there are no official guidelines for corporations.”
One of the main problems mentioned by Hwang was that domestic gene analysis companies face reverse discrimination in their country.
“When our company markets its genetic analysis platform in Korea, it has to follow Korean regulations such as bioethics laws,” Hwang said. “Ironically, however, when a foreign genetic analysis company comes to Korea and services its platform it does not have to abide by the same regulations as it is not a Korean corporation.”
At the very least every company needs to be regulated under the same rule, Hwang added.
Such “reverse discrimination” has led various bio-companies to launch products abroad, which still can become a problem due to language and culture barriers.
“The government and related authorities need to set up regulations that can help domestic companies, or it may miss the ‘golden time’ to make Korea’s bio-industry into a world-class business,” Hwang said.
Hwang believes that one of the benefits of implementing the right regulations for genetic analysis is its potential to help solve the population aging problem.
“Under the present insurance system, it is going to get harder for the government to pay for insurance claims shortly,” Hwang noted. “Gene analysis can help predict illnesses before they become a problem, which in turn will significantly cut medical costs.”
If we do not solve this problem now, the burden will eventually go to the people, he said. “All this shows making the most of our genetic analysis technology to its full is not just for the sake of one company's prosperity but for contributing to the health and welfare of the entire country,” Hwang said.