Region/Countries: Asia, South Korea Industry: Biosciences / Medical Devices, Other Date: May 2023

Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin has more than 2,000 biohealth companies, offering expertise across a wide variety of medical device and pharmaceutical specialties.

South Korea wants to become a powerhouse in the medical device industry.

In April, the government released a plan to invest $7.6 billion in medical device research and development from now through 2027, with support from the private sector.

The primary goal of the five-year plan is to double medical device exports—which stood at $8.6 billion in 2021, the 10th-largest worldwide—and make South Korea the fifth-largest global medical device exporter.

The plan outlines four strategies:

  • Increasing public-private investment in research and development
  • Offering incentives for the use of domestically produced medical devices
  • Building export networks
  • Bringing innovative technologies to market quickly, especially those using artificial intelligence and digital technology

The global medical devices market was estimated at $454 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow about 8% a year, reaching nearly $664 billion in 2026, the government announcement said.

South Korea recorded the first trade surplus in medical devices in 2020, led by a sharp increase in exports of in vitro diagnostic medical devices due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister of Health and Welfare Cho Kyoo Hong said, “Our medical devices industry took a leap forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, we need to come up with long-term support strategies to ensure the industry’s sustainable growth and maintain its export momentum.”

The medical device plan comes a few weeks after the government released a strategic plan to expand its biohealth market. Those steps include adding biopharmaceutical production capacity, developing innovative new drugs, and establishing training centers for biohealth professionals.

At least one South Korean company already is working toward those goals. SK Bioscience recently announced plans to invest nearly $1.8 billion over the next five years to add manufacturing facilities and develop five new vaccines.

The global pharmaceutical market was estimated at $1.4 trillion in 2021 (more than twice the size of the global semiconductor market) and it is expected to continue growing as the population ages and medical technology advances.

South Korea’s pharmaceutical market is valued at $18 billion, the 13th largest in the world.

With Wisconsin’s large concentration of medical device and biohealth companies, collaborations and joint ventures could provide opportunities for these companies to enter or expand in South Korea.