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Celltrion Chairman Seo Jeong Jin was truly a man ahead of his time. In the aftermath of 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, Seo left his job at Daewoo in Korea and flew to San Francisco to realize his next dream.

He dreamed of leading the biologics industry, an idea that grew while Seo was working as a dishwasher at a restaurant in San Francisco. That idea was initially implanted after his conversations with Nobel Laureate Dr. Baruch Blumberg and Dr. Thomas Merigan, the Director of the AIDS Research Institute at Stanford. Seo proposed his ideas to big pharma companies only to be rejected by all. He wasn’t disappointed though. Seo was confident. He reminded himself : “probability is not 100%, but confidence is.”

Biologics use natural sources, and may even contain living cells and tissues in the medication. They are much more targeted and thus have less side effects. The market has become increasingly bio-centric. Last year, 7 of the top 10 selling medicine were bio.

Chairman Seo’s Celltrion successfully made a timely move from the Contract Manufacturing industry of pharmaceuticals into the bio-industry. Seo sensed that the patents of the first round of biologics were about to expire and that the new era of bio-similar was opening up.

Bio-similar products offer similar effects and safety of the original biologics but are much more affordable,because the research process is comparatively condensed. As opposed to Big Pharma products, biosimilars cut down high distribution margins and overhead expenses, thus benefiting individual patients

That was how Celltrion’s first biosimilar product was born, a replication of an original drug made by a global biopharma company to treat autoimmune diseases. In 2013, it became the first ever bio-similar to be approved by the EMA, Europe’s Food and Drug Administration.

Since then, the biosimilar started a revolution in the pharmaceutical industry by overtaking the original drug’s market share, and completely changing the perception that the original will always be preferred. Financially, the biosimilar being more than 30% cheaper than the original, has saved cost in the global healthcare system so much that it was able to treat 20% more patients than before.

But Celltrion didn’t stop there. It further received approval for an upgraded product which includes the Subcutaneous injection method from the EMA. It took 5 years of hard work for Celltrion to develop it. Celltrion’s upgraded biosimilar product is considered as an entirely new drug with new patents in the US and Japan.

And What’s next? Celltrion is developing a treatment for COVID-19. Most likely, Celltrion will create another revolution in the pharmaceutical industry. The company is confident. Like Seo said, “probability is not 100%, but confidence is.”

Written by Woo-sub Kim
duter@hankyung.com

Art Director: Elizabeth Yerin Shim