31 May, 2019

healthcare | Healthtech

Singapore and Korea can learn from each other to advance healthtech in Asia: Interview with Helen Kim from C&R Healthcare Global

Ex-Biomedical Scientist and General Manager of C&R Healthcare Global Pte. Ltd., Dr. Helen Kim, has been at the helm of the company’s Singapore operations as well as a SPECTRUM member for well over a year, overseeing its growth across the region while providing support to Korean companies operating in sectors such as medical devices, medical technology and cosmetics. We sat down with her to find out a bit more about the background of the healthtech business and its future plans:

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Can you please tell us about your professional background, a little about C&R and your role within the company?

[Helen]:

I was a Biomedical Scientist for over 15 years, a period of time that included a highly enriching tenure in Singapore with A * STAR and NTU (collectively) for over a span of 5 years.

Although work as a scientist was extremely meaningful, I always felt that I had a passion for collaborating with people and wasn’t sure if I could go on working in a lab forever.

After spending several years in Singapore, I came to know the local culture and what worked in the business world here. This experience allowed me to become a connector between Singapore and Korea and opened up opportunities for me to collaborate with large Korean corporations, leading to several Joint Ventures for these companies looking to expand into Singapore.

This experience led me to have the honour of working with C&R Research – a CRO (Contract Research Organisation) business that has gone from strength-to-strength and is already reaching its 21st year of operations. The company has conducted more than 1,200 clinical trials and now hires more than 300 employees globally, already has expanded to China and Southeast Asia with plans to move into the U.S. in the near future. We have always maintained our vision of being a reliable and transparent company – a pioneer in the region when it comes to research in the healthtech sphere.

You can say that my function at C&R is as an ecosystem builder between Korea and Singapore, particularly in the biomedical, healthcare and healthtech sectors.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

What is the profile of a typical company that is part of the C&R incubator?

[Helen]:

Although our incubatees come from a wide variety of specialisations across the healthtech sphere, most of them focus on best-in-class drug development within the biotech/pharmaceuticals spheres, digital healthcare, innovative medical devices,  cosmetics and healthcare platform.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

What makes Korean Healthcare companies particularly competitive or even unique?

[Helen]:

The Korean Government has put a lot of support behind the growth in this sector. At the end of the 1970s to the early 1980s, the country established biotech institutes such as KAIST(Korea Advanced Institution Science and Technology) and KRIBB(Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology), with several initiatives for local professionals being encouraged to enter the field with scholarships and other incentives. Many students were sponsored to study in leading institutions in the US and Europe and they were in a position to come back to teach or lead biotech organisations. That also helped to advance the likes of giants such as Samsung and Hyundai.

Taking my generation as an example, I entered University in 1996 and found that the government had created opportunities in graduate school to encourage us to study further by providing support and funding, especially in the biomedical field. The number of PhDs went up due to this support.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

Why are Korean companies becoming increasingly interested in Singapore?

[Helen]:

Although these companies are still interested in the U.S. and EU due to their global focus, it is clear that Singapore is a regional hub, fully equipped with sound regulations and a startup-friendly government that supports businesses. It is also extremely well situated within the region – Korea, for example, is a mere 6 hours away. Singapore uses western standards so benchmarks are high with everything being transparent – Korean companies find it a great location from which to test their products to then expand into the U.S. and other larger markets.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

What are some healthcare innovations that are coming from Korea that will revolutionise the industry?

[Helen]:

I’d have to say prevention medicine is a huge field that we are already seeing major advancements in. Companies such as iMediSync have already come up with methodologies of predicting Dementia at an early stage. Bioinfra is researching on predicting various cancers; the future will be more about preventative measures through developments in healthtech across areas such as Artificial Intelligence, replacing the current curative approach towards patient treatments.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

What are the key challenges that affect Korean companies when expanding overseas and what can they learn from countries like Singapore?

[Helen]:

We venture overseas predominantly to create strategic partners and investors come from various global backgrounds – therefore, we need to constantly approach each market differently and ensure that our communications strategies are localised. Many Korean businesses move overseas without this emphasis on localisation, they sometimes lack the vision to adapt their products and offerings – everything from packaging to their marketing strategies.

On another note, Singapore has demonstrated the ability to welcome changes and find compromises to implement new solutions. To take an example outside the healthtech sphere, Grab and Uber were allowed to successfully co-exist with traditional taxi companies. Korea, on the other hand, banned these companies after taxi companies complained.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

What can Singapore startups learn from Korea to improve their processes?

[Helen]:

One thing that strikes me as a positive in terms of the Korean business environment is the country’s speed of execution and flexibility when it comes to everyday tasks. Singapore is by no means slow but Koreans are known to have this sense of hyper urgency in everything they do which pays of in the form of extremely fast-paced business culture.

 

[SPECTRUM]:

How is technology going to further disrupt the healthcare industry over the next 20 years?

[Helen]:

I think that one of the main areas to watch is that of regulation within the industry. Let’s take the AllliveC platform as an example, the company has set out with the mission of being the Uber for clinical trials – being a matchmaker between online medical platforms and trial patients online. This can be beneficial to accelerate clinical trials and in the adoption of new treatments but requires regulations to evolve fast.

The development and spread of preventive technologies, which is an area not fully leveraged by big pharma, has also great potential for growth and will create opportunities for start-ups that want to grow in the space. We sure have a lot of things to look forward to when it comes to healthtech!

 

[SPECTRUM]:

How has your experience with SPECTRUM been so far?

[Helen]:

I’ve already been here for a year and 2 months and can safely say that SPECTRUM is different from the other spaces that I’ve been in. This is a people-oriented environment where everyone knows each other and is extremely approachable. Meeting so many interesting members from different industries has also broadened my perspective and I truly enjoy the events and other learning opportunities. I would particularly recommend the space to other companies from the Asian region that wants to position themselves as premium companies in Singapore.

That wraps up this month’s SPECTRUM member interview with the esteemed Dr. Helen Kim, championing healthcare technology developments forward through breakthrough research and developments in the field. As always, you can keep up-to-date with what is going on around the SPECTRUM here.

 

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healthcare | Healthtech

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