KOTRA Express talks to Ingrid Drechsel, President of Bayer Korea, to hear more about
Korea’s pharmaceutical industry and her experience doing business here.
Headquartered in Germany, Bayer is a global enterprise with its core competencies in the field of life science. The company specializes in healthcare and agriculture with the aim to create value through innovation and growth.
64 years ago in 1955, the company expanded to Korea with its crop protection business, playing an important role in supporting the agricultural sector after the war. Bayer Korea grew rapidly right alongside the Korean economy and has been contributing to the development of Korea’s pharmaceuticals, animal health, crop protection and other life science based industries. The company currently operates three divisions—Pharmaceuticals, Consumer Health and Crop Science—with approximately 740 employees.
In February 2015, Ingrid U. Drechsel assumed the role of President of Bayer Korea and Country Division Head of Pharmaceuticals. As a biology major, Drechsel started her career in 1981 at a German pharmaceuticals company, and since then, has taken on leadership positions in various global companies prior to joining Bayer, which she has now been with for over 25 years. Her time at Bayer entails experience working in Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and she tells KOTRA Express that when the company asked her if she wanted to work in Korea, she enthusiastically responded, “YES!” Since then, Drechsel says she thoroughly enjoys being here, and adds that she likes Asia because of the special kind of dynamic it has.
Read on to find out more about Ingrid Drechsel’s experience doing business here and Korea’s pharmaceutical industry.
What are the advantages of doing business in Korea?
As you know, Korea is now a very well-developed country, ranking 12th in terms of GDP, and economic growth over the past few years has been tremendous. Therefore, Korea is a highly attractive country for life science companies like us. For pharmaceuticals in particular, the healthcare system is well developed. Korea is always involved in clinical trials right from the beginning because it’s very important, and the speed and the quality are also really good. So Korea always has an advantage over other places in those respects, and has lots of access to innovative medicines.
What makes Korea’s pharmaceutical industry different from that in other parts of the world?
Well, the difference in Korea lies in the pricing system, especially for pharmaceutical products, as they are relatively low. On the other side of that, the salaries of the workforce are on a normal standard in the OECD, so therefore, we always have to see how we can improve profitability. Nevertheless, with innovation, which is highly accepted here in Korea, it’s always an attractive market.
What kind of product development strategies did Bayer carry out to target Korean customers?
We are very big in the area of blood thinning products dealing with preventing strokes, heart attacks, and etc. which we have a long history of with Aspirin. But nowadays, we are working more with a Factor Xa inhibitor, called Xarelto, which is the first of its kind and has the extensive indications for many patients with leadership not only in Korea, but also globally. Also, we’re increasingly active in the field of ophthalmology, especially for the elderly who are losing focus in their eyesight due to age—we want to help them clearly see photos of their grandchildren! We’re No. 1 in that market as well.
For women’s healthcare, which we’ve been No. 1 since pretty much the beginning. In Korea, specifically, contraception can be purchased over-the-counter at pharmacies, whereas in almost all other countries, you have to go to the gynecologist for a prescription. So, we made a decision to promote our oral contraceptives (OCs) via doctors, because not many women are going to gynecologists and finding out more about the benefits of OCs besides protecting against pregnancy, such as relief from menstrual pain or heavy menstrual flow. This is something very specific to Korea where we’re encouraging women to make more visits to their doctors.
I also want to mention the field of oncology. Although we’re not No.1 in this area, we are top for liver cancer. I believe oncology patients here in Korea are really benefitting from the innovation that’s happening in this area. What I see specifically in Korea is that there is a very high survival rate for patients in comparison to other countries, which is really great for the Korean people. So we’re here, supporting and helping out as much as we can in this field.
On that note, what are some trends you are seeing in the Korean pharmaceutical market?
In particular, we’re seeing Korean companies taking on the biosimilar approach as well as the development of a vibrant ecosystem for startups, placing the country at the forefront of innovation. Therefore, we’re seeing the emergence of additional devices to support treatment or observation of treatment with medical devices. For example, there’s a startup called Skylabs that developed a ring-type wearable device—as it’s much more precise to track the heartbeat through the finger—called “CART” (Cardio Tracker) that can diagnose chronic atrial fibrillation using Internet of Things (IoT) technology. Atrial fibrillation can cause all kinds of cardiovascular diseases.
Skylabs was selected as one of the finalists for our Grants4Apps program, which we’re actually working with KOTRA on, to discover and support digital health technology startups. In 2016 and 2017, one of the four global winners was always a Korean company, so that gives you a look into how vibrant the Korean startup environment is. Skylabs went through an incubation process here in Korea, and later, after being selected as the global winner, they had the chance to be at Bayer’s global headquarters in Berlin for three months and work with the most prestigious hospital in Germany called Sharite Hospital.
Can you tell us about some challenges your firm faced while doing business here?
Of course, regulatory environments are different in any country, so there are some challenges in that aspect, but I have to say, we’re seeing lots of improvement there.
We’re also working closely with the Korea Research based Pharma Industry Association (KRPIA) to expand risk sharing agreements, which enables the financial burden to be shared between the government, company and patient. Currently, such agreements are available for the oncology department and rare diseases, but we are working to expand the scope.
How can Korea become a more ideal business environment for foreign companies like Bayer?
First, I think the engagement of the Korean people and their flexibility are incredible—this is what has essentially brought Korea to where it is now, as one of the most advanced economies in the world. Still, I think we will need more versatility and time in fully implementing new policies like the 52-hour work week, for example, so they can be used in a more flexible manner and let it really take root in the working culture.
What Korean companies/government agencies do you work with to strengthen your business partnerships?
Aside from agencies like KOTRA as well as startups, we also work with contract research organizations (CROs) that conduct clinical trials for us. We have a huge department internally for clinical trials, but we do cooperate with CROs on a regular basis. We also have agreements with companies to promote our brands, and we’re always looking forward to what kinds of partnerships the future will bring.
What are Bayer’s future plans for doing business in Korea and in Asia?
We’ve had great business development in both Korea and in Asia in the last few years. Bayer is a really innovative company constantly bringing new brands and new products into the market. I believe this will continue, so our plans will be aligned with the continued growth of pharma as whole.
We’re very much looking forward to increased cooperation with startups, as I mentioned, because I think their ideas can be of benefit for all of us.
We’re also in very close communication with universities and institutes on innovation. All in all, I’d say it’s a great time to be in Korea and we see a bright future ahead of us!
By Grace Park (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Investment Public Relations Team / Invest Korea
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA)