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South Korea’s Hanmi Pharmaceuticals has long promised to turn its home nation into “the Switzerland of Asia.” Whether it plans to be the Roche or the Novartis is unclear, but the biopharma firm is taking the requisite next step of getting into corporate venture capital.

Hanmi Pharma has begotten Hanmi Ventures, a new operation that will invest in fledgling drug firms. The initial outlay is small — about $8.7 million, according to the Korea Herald — but Hanmi said it’s just the first step in a multiyear effort.

The move is a natural next step for Hanmi, which has become the most visible of South Korea’s biopharma firms after signing high-dollar agreements with Sanofi, Eli Lilly, and Johnson & Johnson to develop drugs for diabetes, cancer, and obesity.


Hanmi’s jump into the venture capital world also highlights the growing maturity of South Korea’s biopharma industry.

The country is now home to about 300 companies working in and around drug development, according to a local trade group. And among them is Samsung, the nation’s most valuable company, which teamed up with Biogen to make biosimilars in 2012 and has since won global approvals for biosmilar version of the blockbusters Enbrel and Remicade.


As it seeks to expand the biopharma industry, South Korea has an Asian model to follow.

China, once a fragmented and underfunded biotech scene, has grown into an international player. The biggest global biopharma companies have been steadily leasing research centers in the country, hoping to tap its fast-moving science and partner with local innovators.

And venture firms foreign and homegrown have poured billions into the nascent industry, funding major rounds for the likes of BeiGene, Zai Lab, and Innovent Biologics.

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