‘RIGHT Fund aims to use Korean innovation for global health equity’

Lee Han-soo  Published 2019.07.17  17:41  Updated 2019.07.18 15:12


Infectious diseases remain a leading cause of deaths worldwide and have been disproportionately affecting low-income countries and especially young children. Korea, encouraged by the recent advancement of its pharmaceutical industry, is looking for new ways to help resolve such problems.

CEO and Executive Director of the RIGHT Fund Kim Youn-been explains how the fund will use its grant to promote global health equity, during an interview with Korea Biomedical Review at the Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel in Sindorim-dong, Seoul, on Wednesday.

One of the latest projects the Korean government and the private sectors have launched to resolve the issue is the Research Investment for Global Health Technology Fund or RIGHT Fund. Established in Seoul last year, the RIGHT Fund is the first public-private partnership, involving the government, pharmaceutical companies, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

The foundation pursues practical investment into projects, which deliver tangible global health solutions and focus on Korea’s original and innovative concepts for vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics. All this is aimed to alleviate the harms of infectious diseases affecting low-income countries that have a hard time controlling the matter on its own. The foundation plans to invest a total of 50 billion won ($42.3 million) for five years to achieve some of its goals.

Korea Biomedical Review met with Kim Youn-been, CEO and executive director of the RIGHT Fund, to discuss what the foundation plans to accomplish with its funds, and what sort of projects they are looking to invest.

Question: Is there a specific illness in which RIGHT Fund is particularly interested?

Answer: We are looking for projects that can help improve public health in developing countries. Therefore, rather than focusing on one infectious disease, we are interested in all kinds of contagious diseases that are causing an epidemic in developing countries. Our founders who set up this fund also view treating infectious disease as the primary mission of the fund.

We say that the fund is to help developing countries, but infectious diseases are a global problem that affects every country on this planet. So, the outcomes of our project may contribute to the public health of advance countries, too, including Korea.

As a lot of Korean companies are in the late stage of developing products, we believe we can deliver some solution by making the most of this fund by the end of 2022 when it is scheduled to end.

Q: Are there any helpful tips or suggestions for companies that want to apply for the RIGHT Fund?

A: We are looking for projects that can address specifically unmet medical needs and maximize impact on public health such as lives saved.

As most of our funds come from Korea, we want to identify projects that best utilize emerging or specific technologies based on the strength of Korea’s pharmaceutical and medical device industry, while also fostering collaboration between local and international organizations.

Hopefully, through such projects, we can build capacity for Korean research and development, and support the localization of product development and manufacturing. And when the project is complete, we expect more Korean companies will be engaged in the public health mission.

I hope that all local companies that aim to help such a mission will apply for the grant.

Q: What is the maximum budget for awarded projects?

A: For this year’s request for proposal, the maximum budget per project is set at 4 billion won. For late-stage products, companies must provide a plan to secure full funding to complete the project as the RIGHT Fund will only support up to 50 percent of the total project costs.

Q: Are the Korea-based subsidiaries of multinational and foreign companies allowed to apply for a grant through the project?

A: Yes. As long as the organization is a legal business entity registered and has an R&D facility in Korea, they can apply for the grant. For applicants outside of Korea, the foundation requires them to have at least one Korea-based collaborator.

Q: Large pharmaceutical firms such as multinationals may have a better chance of winning the grant as they have more resources to make a solid proposal. Is there a plan to ensure that not all awards go to major pharmaceutical companies?

A: As of now, we haven’t received any proposals from multinational companies. Even if we receive a proposal from such companies, however, we thoroughly examine why they need the fund grant, and if it can produce tangible outcomes until the fund expires in 2022.

Also, in the public health sector, there is no differentiation for proposals from the multinational pharmaceutical companies and small- and mid-sized ones. All proposals are valuable to us, and we will give grants based on the outcome of our evaluation.

Q: When can we expect some results from the RIGHT Fund grant in Korea? If the project succeeds, is there a possibility that the partners involved in the RIGHT Fund creating another similar fund with more money?

A: As for tangible outcomes or result, we expect to have some successes at the end of the project. However, the outcome of the project does not necessarily mean a hit product. The success may come in various forms such as the WHO’s prequalification (PQ) approval or successful completion of a clinical stage.

As I emphasized earlier, however, the fund focuses on late-stage projects that can deliver tangible outcomes soon. Hopefully, we can foresee certain products that can be reachable to patients by the end of 2022.

Regarding the extension of the fund in the future, that is undoubtedly the goal we are pursuing.

Q: Aside from investing in the RIGHT Fund, BMGF has shown a lot of interest in Korea’s pharmaceutical industry. In your opinion, what makes Korea’s pharmaceutical industry so attractive? And what improvement does it need?

A: Although I cannot speak on behalf of the BMGF, I think Korea’s pharmaceutical industry has created an excellent impression by delivering high- quality results in a short period. I believe this is why the global pharmaceutical industry has recently become more interested in Korea.

Korea also has the manufacturing capacity and late-stage product modification technology.

Regarding what we can improve on, I believe the Korean R&D and industry can increase their impact through greater investments in early-stage discovery projects. If we develop in that area, we can have more collaboration with international partners.

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