28 Jan 2009

Korea can be a leader of global biotech industry'

Health care will change dramatically over the next 10 years, from treating the sick to utilizing a kind of digital health care system that prevents possible diseases, a global biotech investor said.

"In 2020, we are going to live in a blackberry centric, a kind of digital health care world," said Steven Burrill, head of Burrill & Company, a San Francisco-based life sciences merchant bank.

"As you walk into a store, you put some blood or urine or some biological sample onto a chip ... And as you come out from the store they will say that you should take medicine or you've got breast cancer or diabetes.

"So we are going to move healthcare from treating the sick to plugging you into a system that treats (your health) well and preemptively," Burrill said. "We are going to have a lot of data streaming in telling us what is going on about your health."

The transformation of health care can happen, he said, by applying the idea to existing technology. And in this respect, Korea, a leader in electronics, information technology and software, will have opportunities to lead in the biotech industry, he said.

"Koreans have opportunities to be a leader of that. Nobody is the leader of that today," he said.

The CEO was in Seoul on Monday to "seek business opportunities" here.

Burrill has been involved in the biotechnology industry for 40 years and is one of its most influential figures. His company is the world's third largest bio-fund management firm and manages an estimated $1 billion in financial resources.

The company previously invested in state-sponsored biotech funds in the United States and Malaysia. Burrill was named one of the world's top 50 visionaries by the journal Scientific American in 2002.

He met Vice Knowledge Economy Minister Rim Che-min and expressed his interest in contributing to a "new growth engine fund" proposed by the government.

The purpose of the fund would be to support businesses involved in cutting-edge technologies and sustaining the country's future growth, the ministry said.

On Jan. 13, the Korean government announced that it will support the development of 17 future-oriented growth businesses, including biotechnology companies, by injecting more than 13.6 trillion won into the fund. It hopes to attract up to 90.5 trillion won worth of investments from the private sector. To lure private investment, the ministry will establish a 250 billion won fund for new growth engines this year, with the total to expand to 3 trillion won by 2013.

The health care transformation has the potential to solve the problem of dramatically increasing costs and the limited amount of health care resources, Burrill said.

"Koreans spent 6 percent of their GDP on healthcare. In the next seven years, health care in the U.S. will cost $2 trillion to $4 trillion," he said.

Health care systems around the world must change because their current approach may lead to bankruptcy, the CEO said.

"And so as from investors' view, there will be an exciting opportunity to not only develop the technology but to bring in technology from elsewhere in the world here to Korea and to be in this kind of the 21 century medicine world," he added.


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