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K-bio's out-licensing this year reaches $9.3 bn

Overseas technology transfers from Korean biotech and pharmaceutical firms have already hit a record high in 2021

By Nov 18, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

As of Nov. 17, Korea's biotech and pharma overseas technology transfers for this year already exceed .3 billion.
As of Nov. 17, Korea's biotech and pharma overseas technology transfers for this year already exceed $9.3 billion.

Overseas technology transfers from South Korean biotechs and pharmaceutical manufacturers this year have exceeded 11 trillion won ($9.3 billion), already hitting a fresh yearly high. Korea’s new drug candidate discovery and development, as well as biosimilar production and medical diagnostic industries, are standing out in the global pharma industry.

LegoChem Biosciences Inc., a Korean clinical-stage biopharma founded in 2006, stated on Nov. 17 that it signed an agreement to transfer its technology enabling antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) to Czech-based clinical-stage immune-oncology company SOTIO Biotech, for targeting tumor-associated antigens.

Under the agreement, the Korean biotech will receive upfront and potential milestone payments worth up to 1.2 trillion won, payable based on certain developments and regulatory achievements, and royalties on net sales. An official from LegoChem Bio said the Korean firm will receive up to 34.8 billion won from SOTIO soon for upfront fees and near-term milestones, and the payment for each stage need not be returned even if there is an amendment in the contract afterward.

Before then, the Korean biotech in June expanded an April 2020 contract with the UK’s Iksuda Therapeutics by granting rights for global development and commercialization of ADC to three additional targets, increasing the contract size from 496.3 billion won to 920 billion won. The Korean biotech has signed a total of 10 ADC-related technology transfer contracts license to date, achieving up to 3.7 trillion won in deals so far, which is the highest yet for any Korean biotech.

Graphics by Jerry Lee
Graphics by Jerry Lee

Korea’s biotechnology transfer exports
Unit: 100 milliion won

As of Nov. 17, 2021

Source: KPBMA

Graphics by Jerry Lee

Voronoi Inc., an artificial intelligence-based Korean biotech focused on novel kinase inhibitors and target protein degraders, announced on Nov. 17 that it signed to transfer technology of its novel monopolar spindle1 (MPS1), called VRN08 that blocks MPS1-involved tumor cell division, and a second undisclosed asset to US clinical-stage biotech Pyramid Biosciences Inc. The two firms didn’t disclose the upfront fee but the milestone-based deal, which is worth up to $846 million.

Before then, Voronoi has transferred technologies since its inception in 2015. More recently, the Korean biotech in October 2020 licensed out its tumor treatment candidate dubbed ORIC-114 to Nasdaq-listed US firm ORIC Pharmaceuticals Inc., for a cash and stock payment of $13 million. Under the contract, the Korean firm will receive up to an additional $608 million based on development, regulatory achievement and sales milestones. Also, Voronoi in January licensed out its anti-cancer substance VTN061782 to a Korean pharmaceutical company HK inno.N for an undisclosed payment and signed a technology transfer agreement with Nasdaq-listed US pharmaceutical company Brickell Biotech Inc. for 380 billion won in August. The Korean firm said its AI-based technology reduces the period for new drug candidate discovery from an average of five years to one and a half years.

Expanding both in deal size and numbers

According to Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA), this year's biopharma-related technology transfer size from Korea to overseas reached 11.4 trillion won as of Thursday, already surpassing last year's 10.1 trillion won. The association said the number of contracts is 28 up to date, twice that of last year's 14.

As for the size of a single contract, GC Cell and its US-based subsidiary achieved the largest deal of $1.9 billion transferring chimeric antigen receptors-natural killer (CAR-NK) cell therapy for three types of solid tumors to Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. (MSD) in January.

Korea’s major pharmaceutical company Daewoong Pharmaceutical Co. signed the largest number of contracts this year with four technology transfers of Fexuprazan, its novel potassium-competitive acid blocker for gastroesophageal reflux treatment, to the US, Brazil, China and Mexico. The total deals are worth 993.1 billion won. 

The Korean biotechs’ technology transfers increased from three last year to 10 this year, the association said.

“There will be more Korean new drug developers considering the Chinese market first, over the European or US markets, as competition among Chinese pharmaceutical companies to secure new drug candidates is getting fiercer,” a bio-industry source said.

Write to Ju-hyun Lee at

Jihyun Kim edited this article.

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