The Korean Overseas Information Service (KOIS) reported last week that several officials from the company's management, including Bharat Chowrira, head of Merck's global licensing division, will attend the Bio Korea conference in Seoul on 12 September, quoting a press release from MSD Korea, Merck's Korean subsidiary. According to the KOIS article, the officials have lined up several meetings with Korean research laboratories and biotech companies "to discuss possible business opportunities".
Mark Timney, head of MSD Korea, was also reported to say that the drug giant hopes to find a Korean partner during the visit. However, the company was unable to confirm the accuracy of the media report at the time of publishing.
South Korea is an up-and-coming player in the Asian pharmaceutical sphere and recent research shows that it is increasingly attracting the interest of big pharma. A survey recently conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) showed that a third of multinational pharmaceutical firms already established in Asia have plans to immediately expand in the region within the next year either through their own sites or through acquisitions.
And according to the PwC report, called "Gearing Up for a Global Gravity Shift: Growth, Risk and Learning in the Asia Pharmaceutical Market", South Korea ranked number four in the list of target countries for expansion, behind China, India and Singapore. "South Korea is a major player in the emerging Asia pharmaceutical landscape. There are sizeable opportunities for foreign firms in a rapidly growing pharmaceuticals market," the report said.
But Merck is not the only big pharma showing interest and acting on it. Pfizer recently announced it would invest around $300m (€218m) into South Korean research and development over the next five years. The drug titan's CEO penned a deal with the country's Ministry of Health last June to develop drugs and medical technology alongside local R&D centres, taking advantage of the lower costs in Korea. According to the ministry, Pfizer's is the largest single investment in South Korea by a foreign company.
Meanwhile, MSD recently opened its regional headquarters for its Asia Pacific business in Singapore, reflecting the company's strategy to focus on emerging markets.
Merck is already well-established in Singapore, having made its first footprint there in 1993 when it set up a sales office in the country. Since then the company has become one of the largest pharmaceutical investors in the country, having ploughed over S$1bn (€477m) into its various facilities in the region.