By Chung Chin-youb
The main theme of this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) was the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which also happens to be the title of the book written by Klaus Schwab, president of the WEF. In this book, Schwab predicted that the fusion of a wide range of sectors powered by advances in scientific technology and digitalization will fundamentally change our lives in ways that have never been witnessed before.
In the era of the new industrial revolution, the healthcare and bio sectors are likely to emerge as core drivers of growth, along with the rise of new scientific technology such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI).
As people live longer, the idea of healthy ageing is gaining more traction. This trend is shifting the paradigm of care in the way it focuses more on prevention and control rather than treatment, while accelerating the sophistication and diversification of healthcare services.
Rapidly evolving scientific technology combined with medical technology enables customized care which has higher efficacy and fewer side effects than conventional care. Advances in mobile and communication technologies have also fueled the enhancement of healthcare services.
Consider families with dementia patients. Thanks to technological innovation, they are now able to constantly monitor their sick family members for safety through internet of things (IoT) devices installed at home. AI and big data also present opportunities to make more accurate diagnoses and find the best possible treatments.
Korea has an immense potential to lead the global bio-health sector with its highly-skilled healthcare workforce, first-class medical technology and advanced healthcare system and ICT infrastructure.
In particular, Korea has a high-level of expertise in regenerative medicine which is a branch of the medical field that helps restore damaged body functions. In fact, four out of all seven stem cell therapies developed worldwide originated from Korea. Additionally, Korean pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies are increasingly expanding exports, and a growing number of Korean healthcare facilities are making inroads into overseas countries through the application of telemedicine technology.
Such endeavors to boost the healthcare industry have produced some tangible results. This year, Korea signed a letter of intent with Bahrain to export the nation’s highly advanced healthcare system, and SK Chemicals, a Korean pharmaceutical company, obtained FDA approval of its new biologic drug, AFSTYLA.
In addition, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is poised to navigate through the rapidly changing global landscape wisely. It has established the National Comprehensive Plan on the Development of the Healthcare Industry with the aim of becoming the seventh-largest global bio-health powerhouse.
To achieve this vision, the ministry will fully tap into the nation’s excellent healthcare workforce and advanced medical technology, the core strengths of the Korean healthcare industry. Traditionally, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics have been considered promising areas and received a continuous flow of support from the government. Research and development investment in these areas will be further expanded to make the local healthcare businesses competitive enough to lead the global market.
Precision medicine and regenerative medicine will grow out of the infant stage where most investment went to laying a foundation. Going forward, a national cohort of 100,000 individuals for the collection of genome data, as well as a platform for sharing such resources will be established to make further advances in precision medicine, which will enable us to provide customized, optimal care for individuals. Moreover, legislative efforts will be made to ensure the swift introduction of cutting-edge regenerative technologies into hospitals.
Such new technologies are expected to significantly reduce the length of treatment for severe diseases. Additionally, the government will work toward industrializing precision medicine, and legislating a special act to build a vibrant ecosystem for precision medicine businesses, particularly through the nurturing of experts.
Furthermore, Korea will make bold steps toward achieving the happiness and well-being of people and becoming a global leader in healthcare. To this end, the government will continue to spread the so-called Korean Wave in the global healthcare sector, and reorganize the national healthcare system to create a robust ecosystem for innovation.
In particular, Korean-style medical clusters will be built around research-driven medical centers, bringing together hospitals, venture companies, universities and research institutes. Such an integrated system for innovation will generate enormous value that sets us apart from others. In addition, the government plans to step up support for healthcare start-ups, and the commercialization of bio and medical technologies throughout the entire cycle of technology and business.
Overall, the healthcare industry and scientific technology will serve as engines for future growth and help Korea rise to global prominence. The ministry will channel its resources and skills into invigorating the healthcare industry to create decent jobs for young people and ultimately promote the health of all people. I look forward to ushering in the era of a health economy where health drives growth across all sectors of the economy going beyond the healthcare sector, and economic prosperity contributes to the healthy lives of global citizens.
The writer is the minister of health and welfare.