Top 10 Korean BioTech Startups to Know – Best of 2019

Biotech startups can be a high risk/high reward venture for investors.  There are many Korean BioTech startups that have huge upsides but can be risky due to the ever-changing landscape in the healthcare industry.  A typical biotech startup in Korea requires several years of research, tests, and passing regulations before its first product reaches the market.  However, with the advancement in technology and new discoveries in the healthcare industry, the room for innovation in the biotech sector is very bright.

Korean biotech company Celltrion is considered the most successful Korean BioTech and health tech startup.  The company was founded in 2002 and have since gone public and is one of the top companies on the Kosdaq market for startups in terms of market capitalization.  So which Korean biotech startup will be the next Celltrion or Genexine?

Here is our list of the top 10 biotech startups in Korea.

1)  CareLabs

Korean BioTech Startup CarelabsKorean Healthcare Startup Carelabs offers optimal software and content services based on IT innovation. They are the makers of Babitalk which is a healthcare service that shares Korean cosmetic, skincare, and diet reviews.  In addition, they produced the best hospital information application called Goodoc.  It is an app that offers referral hospital information to users along with community features for shared reviews.  Furthermore, they have over 250,000 reviews online and have partnered with over 500 hospitals in Korea.  They recently invested close to $10 million into BNK Lab, which is a social dating app, to strengthen their services in the beauty industry. 

CareLabs is also looking to expand outside of Korea by launching its own beauty and dating app in other countries.  In addition, they invested in healthcare data startup Life Semantics.  Carelabs sales increased from $7 million dollars in 2014 to $47 million in 2018.  In 2019 they will continue to expand its business across the Korean market and into the global healthcare market.  

2)  Noom

Korean Health Startup NoomHealth coaching app developer Noom announced today that it has raised $58 million led by Sequoia Capital.  The app offers eating plans designed by registered dietitians.  Therefore, users can record their meals, get workout plans, and track their exercise progress.  Furthermore, there is also access to health/exercise articles, healthy food recipes, and support/consulting through your dietitian. When you first log in you will need to answer a series of questions to address your current weight and lifestyle.  Then the app will assign you a coach and give eating recommendations.  There are built-in tools to help you track your fitness, exercise, blood pressure, and diet. 

The best part about Noom is that you can eat whatever you want to eat, you might get a note on your food tracker telling you that you have gone over a certain daily level.  The app is free to download but if you want the full experience it will cost the user around $50 a month.  To go through the full program users must stick with the membership for four months.  This will likely cost less than working individually with a dietitian.  According to Noom, 64% of users lose 5% or more of their body weight, and 60% maintain the loss for one year or more.

Korean BioTech startup GenoplanKorean BioTech Startup Genoplan is a genetic testing company with big ambitions to use their cutting-edge technology, expertise, and experience to revolutionize health and wellness.  They use the latest up to date facilities to provide the fastest and most accurate DNA analysis results.  In addition, they have raised $14 million through their series B round and their total investment so far is at $19 million.  They are focusing on the Asian population with office presence in Korea, Singapore, and Japan.  Their affordable home-based saliva testing kit includes a life-long membership, free update of the latest research, and a detailed analysis over 450 categories.

Customers send their saliva collection kit to Genoplan, and they will receive an online analysis report in 10 business days.   This report incorporates both genetic and non-genetic factors to provide combinational predispositions to various diseases and tendencies to interesting traits.  As their business grows, the startup hopes to build a platform where people can easily access their genetic information and therefore, take early preventive measures.

4)  Life Semantics

Life Semantics Korean BioTech StartupLife Semantics is a Korean MedTech Tech startup that focuses on developing software platforms and systems for the medical industry.  Their main platform is called Life Record which is a fully integrated information system.  It provides healthcare organizations with the tools to improve hospital management, patient administration, and clinical tasks.  The platform integrates health record data from hospitals for their disease prognosis prediction algorithm.  The data collected through their platform can provide substantial information to set up a self-health management program and provide pre-emptive healthcare services.

Life Semantics is planning to launch a mobile solution that offers forecasting, prevention, and management of various serious disease outbreaks soon.  Life Semantics got a $5.5 million investment from CareLabs in 2018.

5) Bisichem

Korean MedTech Startup BisichemKorean BioTech startup BiSiChem is a cancer treatment therapy developer which was founded in 2017.  They develop top of the line cancer therapies more specifically the development of molecule targets for immune-oncology therapy or targeted cancer therapy.  Their research team is very global with many having years of experience in the global drug development market.  They have a large network of hospitals and biotech companies all around the world.  Their platform will go global in 2019 as they look to expand out of Korea and into the U.S. and Japan markets.

BiSiChem got a $1.8 million investment from Israeli VC Yozma Group.

6)  Lunit

Lunit is a Korean medical AI software company that focuses on deep learning and medical data.  They are devoted to discovering, designing, and developing data-driven imaging biomarkers.  These biomarkers help bring a high level of accuracy and efficiency in diagnosis and treatment.  In addition, Lunit focuses on radiology and cancer treatment.  Their product Lunit Insight CXR-Nodule is a web-based AI medical image diagnostic software, that helps make accurate diagnostics for lung cancer. They have tested their accuracy through clinical trials at Seoul National University Hospital.  Currently, they are looking to sell their products and services to the global market.

Their latest product for breast cancer detection is called Lunit Insight for Mammography.  They were named by CB Insights as one of the AI 100 startups that are transforming the healthcare industry.

7)  Healcerion

healcerion_logoKorean MedTech startup Healcerion offers a mobile-based ultrasound system that offers physicians and patients a portable handheld ultrasound device.  Their device called the SONON 300L recently got FDA approval and can now enter the US market.  Their flexible handheld device is 1/10 the cost of a traditional ultrasound machine.  It is an advanced imaging device that can be used anywhere as long as you also download the app from Google Play or the App Store.  Therefore, the tablet or smartphone will then act as a display for the device.

The SONON 300L is rechargeable (3-hour battery life) and only weighs 13 ounces.  It can also support medical imaging protocols such as DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) and PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System).  In addition, it also provides a new diagnostic ultrasound option for retail clinics, urgent care centers, mini-hospitals, home health care providers, and rural and third-world regions where cost, space, mobility requirements had previously put traditional ultrasound out of reach.

8)  Tomocube

TomocubeKorean BioTech startup Tomocube create real-time 3D imaging products for optical solutions.  Their platform allows researchers to measure nanoscale, real-time, dynamic images of individual living cells without the need for sample preparation.  Their main product is a microscope called HT-1.  It measures 3D refractive index tomograms of live cells and tissues.  This allows for high-resolution 3D refractive index tomograms of cells.  This is important in showing the development of apoptotic features in early Parkinson’s disease (PD) progression.  Therefore, this technology allows researchers to conduct long-term studies without the fear of photobleaching and phototoxicity impacting their results.

Tomocube has worked closely with the top technical university in Seoul, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) to develop the custom stitching software for the motorized stage.

10)  Sky Labs

Korean BioTech StartupKorean Health-tech startup Sky Labs is known for a ring-type Cardio Tracker called CART.  It helps with the continuous monitoring of atrial fibrillation which is an irregular heart rhythm that can cause blood clots and even lead to heart failure or stroke.  Atrial fibrillation occurs in 25% of people in their 40s or older.  Customers can wear the CART ring daily.  It is both waterproof and dust-proof.  Furthermore, the collected atrial fibrillation data can help doctors diagnose atrial fibrillation.

They are doing clinical trials at Seoul National University Hospital and working with global pharmaceutical companies like Bayer and Sanofi.

Their focus for 2019 will be to seek sales licenses in the US and Europe to expand their share in the global market.  Sky Labs was established in 2015, they first saw their potential in the European market when it was picked at the startup program Grants4Apps Accelerator by Bayer in 2017.  Furthermore, in 2018, the company won the top award for the digital health care sector at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, the world’s largest cardiovascular congress. In addition, in 2019 Sky Labs got selected for the YIA (Young Investigator Awards) from HRS (Heart Rhythm Society) which was the first time a Korean team has won the award and were selected as a Tech pioneer from the World Economic Forum for the second time in Korea.  


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John

John is the Editor-in-Chief at Seoulz and is the Head of Operations for EOS Asia. He has covered the startup, tech & blockchain scene for media platforms Startup Radar and Seoul Space having written over 600 articles on Korea's blockchain and startup ecosystem. John has worked closely with The Ministry of SMEs and Startups as well as the Korea Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Creativity. Email him at john@seoulz.com

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