South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT establishes public-private Natural Innovations Growth Promotion Team

South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has established a “Natural Innovations Growth Promotion Team” as a cornerstone in the country’s drive to create an “ innovative ecosystem of natural products via regular forum operations, joint research promotion, and policy proposals”, according to a press release issued by the Ministry on 1st June.

The “Natural Innovations Growth Team” will be a collaborative partnership consisting of 20 members, including companies specialising in natural products and health foods, academia, 6 government-funded research institutes, the Ministry of Science and ICT and the Chungbuk provincial government. The inter-sectoral nature of the team is indicative of South Korea’s drive towards tapping on private sector expertise and needs via public-private partnerships to further the country’s prospects for economic growth and policy innovation. 

Under the stewardship of the Korea Drug Research Association and directed by the country’s Bio Synergy Research Center, the “Natural Innovations Growth Team” provides a platform for joint action between government, research and industry. In providing a central hub for the growth of South Korea’s natural products ecosystem, the team is expected to better channel the government’s annual 140 billion won investment expenditure in natural product research & development.

According to the press release issued by the Ministry, funding goes to projects such as creating a “natural material bank”, a “smart-farm testbed”, development of therapeutic substances to reduce fat absorption in the pancreas derived from traditional medicine extracts”, as well as the development of a “virtual human model” to help identify how natural materials interact with the human body.

The establishment of the “Natural Innovations Growth Promotion Team” comes in light of the Ministry’s commitment towards achieving the country’s vision, “Bio-Economy Initiative 2025” ,and complements the earlier “Strategy for Innovative Growth of Natural Products in the Korean Peninsula”. According to an article published in the Korea Biomedical Review, the “Bio-Economy Initiative 2025” is intended to increase South Korea’s market share of the global bioengineering market from an output of 1.7 percent in 2017 to 5 percent in 2025. The “Strategy for Innovative Growth of Natural Products in the Korean Peninsula” refers to the Ministry of Science and ICT’s strategy of developing 10 world-class natural products over the next 22 years; this strategy consists of 3 aspects — to secure natural ingredients, to “identify scientific principles”, and to create innovative growth ecosystems — and  constitutes part of South Korea’s “Bio-Economy Initiative 2025”.

South Korea’s bid to become a heavyweight in the global biotech and bioengineering market has been underscored by significant investment in relevant sectors by actors in both the public and private sector. The South Korean government had earlier announced in 2017 that it plans to invest 500 billion won into the pharmaceutical sector over a period of 10 years in a bid to produce nearly 100 new drugs by 2026; Due to a confluence of progress in bioscience, industry and the cultural appeal of “Hallyu”, South Korea has also become a leading innovator in cosmetics and a global leader in “cosmeceuticals”, or cosmetic products that have medicinal or drug-like benefits. The launch of the “Natural Innovations Growth Promotion Team” builds upon the country’s mounting success and provides more opportunities for further innovation in the field of bioengineering.

“In order to create a premium for traditional natural products on the Korean peninsula, industry-academia-government collaboration is essential”, said Kim Jung-won,  Director of the Ministry of Science and ICT R&D Policy Bureau. To complement the establishment of the “Natural Innovations Growth Promotion Team”, the Ministry of Science and ICT also plans to support joint research between private companies and public research institutes to improve global product development via a “Natural Product Innovation Growth Leading Project”. This initiative is expected to be announced in July.

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