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 they 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 has 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 cosmetics, 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. Furthermore, 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.  

Carelabs acquires online beauty startup Eunogo

Carelabs acquired a majority stake into a Eunogo, an online beauty concierge startup located in Indonesia and Singapore. Therefore, this will be Carelabs path into expanding their business into the Southeast Asian market.

“While the number of inbound medical tourists to Korea has been continuously increasing, there hasn’t been a leading platform that understands and caters to the customer’s pain points. The plan is to lead the growth of the Korean medical tourism industry through this acquisition and Carelabs will collaborate with Eunogo as the No.1 Beauty platform company in Korea.” Said Kim Dong Soo, CEO of Carelabs.

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. Users will get a note on your food tracker telling you that you have gone over a certain daily level. In addition, 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. Therefore, this will likely cost less than working individually with a dietitian. In addition, according to Noom, 64% of users lose 5% or more of their body weight, and 60% maintain the loss for one year or more.

Noom recently received funding from Serena Ventures to help fund the company’s continued growth. In addition, Noom will have access to the firm’s network and portfolio companies.

“I’m a true believer that everyone should have easy access to a healthier life, which is why I decided to invest in Noom. Noom’s mix of empathetic human support paired with modern technology and science makes it possible for people to achieve significant, lasting behavior change,” said Serena Williams, Founder of Serena Ventures.

Korean BioTech startup GenoplanKorean BioTech Startup Genoplan is a genetic testing company with big ambitions to use its cutting-edge technology, expertise, and experience to revolutionize health and wellness. Genoplan is Korea’s first startup to enter the direct-to-consumer DNA testing market. 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 $23 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 of over 450 categories.

Customers send their saliva collection kit to Genoplan, and they will receive an online analysis report in 10 business days. Furthermore, this report incorporates both genetic and non-genetic factors. This provides combinational predispositions to various diseases and tendencies to interesting traits. Therefore, 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.

DNA Test Kit now out in Singapore ($199)

The DNA Test Kit allows users to decode their DNA so that they can take measures to prevent health issues like obesity or stroke. Users will need to register an account on the Genoplan’s website. Then they need to enter the serial key code located on the side of their test kit collection tube. In addition, users will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their daily habits and lifestyle. They will then need to spit into the tube and pour in the blue saliva stabilization buffer liquid and shake the tube.

“We want to expand in Asia to collect Asia genome data for the development of cancer treatment, the right cosmetics, or obesity treatments for the Asian population,” said Founder of Genoplan, Brain Kang.

Users will need to mail the sealed tubes in the bags provided. A few weeks later, they will get an email notifying them about their genetic analysis which has over 460 health data. Users can log into their Genoplan account and check out their personalized reports.

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.  It 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. NEUROPHET

neurophetKorean Medical AI-based software startup Neurophet created tES Lab 2.0 which automatically segments brain magnetic resonance (MR) into 107 regions within a minute. The Neurophet tES Lab 2.0 is a complete transcranial electrical stimulation simulation software. It allows users to calculate and visualize brain stimulation effects. This is based on the individual’s brain structure and stimulus conditions.

Neurophet was able to secure $5 million in series A funding in late 2019.

Some of the Key Features of Neurophet tES Lab 2.0

  • AI-driven
  • Fully automated brain segmentation
  • Personalized 3D model generation
  • Simulation of user-defined brain targets
  • Automatically electrode positioning for user-defined brain targets
  • Effective simulation result analysis

“We are pursuing the development of practical products that can be used for research, clinical trials and actual treatment diagnosis,” said Jake Been, CEO of Neurophet.

6. Bisichem

Korean MedTech Startup BisichemKorean BioTech startup BiSiChem is a cancer treatment therapy developer that 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. Furthermore, 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.

7. 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. It 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.

“Data-driven medicine using AI technology has some similarity with evidence-based medicine as both analyze data to detect illnesses, but the difference is that deep-learning technology performs better than humans,” said Anthony Paek, Co-Founder of Lunit.

Their latest product for breast cancer detection is called Lunit Insight for Mammography (Lunit MMG). In addition, they were named by CB Insights as one of the AI 100 startups that are transforming the healthcare industry.

Granted Korea MFDS Approval for Lunit Insight MMG

The Korea MFDS (Ministry of Food and Drug Safety) approved Lunit’s AI solution for breast cancer. It is available for sale in Korea and was co-developed with Yonsei Severance Hospital, Asan Medical Center, and Samsung Medical Center. In addition, Lunit provides an online demo for users to test the performance of its software.

8. THE.WAVE.TALK

The Wave talkKorean Biotech sensor startup THE.WAVE.TALK developed a laser sensor that is 10,000 times more sensitive than the conventional options out there. The current method for bacteriological analysis requires an expert to collect the sample or samples. Then it the expert needs to culture it or use expensive precise equipment that can take days. The technology created by THE.WAVE.TALK can detect a low concentration of bacteria on much larger samples. By working on much larger samples, it takes only seconds to identify different species of bacteria through their deep learning system. Their bacteria sensor can be attached to IV solutions tubing. This will allow a signal to be sent to a doctor in case of any contamination. Therefore, this technology will ultimately decrease the total costs for diagnosis by cutting down the time and the labor efforts required to test nano and micro-particles.

THE.WAVE.TALK is backed by KAIST and VC firms such as Naver’s D2Startup Factory, Estech Pharma, and Bluepoint Partners, just to name a few.

“The likelihood of survial from a bacterial infection drops by the hour. By diagnosing a given bacteria quicker, we can help find the right antibiotic for the infection faster, said Kim Young-dug, Co-founder and CEO of THE.WAVE.TALK

9.  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. Furthermore, it will help rural and third-world regions where cost, space, and mobility requirements had previously put traditional ultrasound out of reach.

“We are looking forward to improving our current devices and producing better high-quality systems. We are also focused on cloud-based solutions so we can build the future of mobile healthcare platforms. New Healcerion ultrasound scanners will take advantage of the next-generation technology, making them more compact and easier to use,” said CEO of Healcerion, Dr. Benjamin Ryu.

10. Tomocube

TomocubeKorean BioTech startup Tomocube creates 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.

Winner of the Innovation Award

The Tomocube HT2 holographic microscope is the world’s first microscope to combine both holography and 3D imaging into one unit. It can capture high-resolution 3D optical diffraction tomography and 3D images simultaneously.

“We, as the first mover in the 3D holographic image industry, feel a great sense of responsibility and burden to move ahead at the same time. But I believe we can and will grow even more to give benefits to the medical industry and patients by releasing innovative products,” said the CEO of Tomocube Hong Ki-hyun.

HONORABLE MENTION

Olive Union

 

Olive UnionKorean Health Tech Startup Olive Union makes hearing aids that are both high quality and sold at a low price. Currently, the average hearing aid costs between $2,000 to $6,000. The cost of an Olive Union hearing aid will be $200.  In addition, most hearing aids are not fashionable. Therefore Olive hearing aids look more like wireless earbuds. Furthermore, users can listen to music as well as receive phone calls because the hearing aids come with Bluetooth.

Recently Olive Union has partnered with Litalico Inc, a Japanese social enterprise to enter the Japanese market. In 2019, they will focus mainly on Korea and the US before they focus on Japan. They will be coming out with a new hearing device by the end of 2019.

“We expect to post around $1.5 Million to $2.5 million in sales this year (2019). And we hope to reach $8.5 million in sales with our new smart ear device by 2020,” said CEO Owen Song of Olive Union.

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. In addition, 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). This 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. 

“From the beginning, our goal was to penetrate Europe and the US. We will also launch the product in South Korea so we have applied for the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety’s approval, but it is only for limited usage due to government regulations here,” said Sky Labs CEO Lee Byung-hwan.

Nu Eyne

Korean Med Tech Startup Nu EyneKorean medical device startup Nu Eyne focuses on treating ophthalmological disorders. These disorders could be dry eye syndrome or simple eye discomfort. They treat these disorders by applying tissue engineering and neuro-modulation technology.

SKIA

Korean Startup SKIAKorean startup SKIA develops technology enabling projection of lesion from CT/MRI directly onto a patient’s body accurately. Their technology allows doctors to virtually visualize the lesion’s location on the body as if you are watching a sci-fi movie. Their AR solution reduces surgical deviations and provides a safe surgical environment for patients. Therefore, by scanning the patient’s body with a 3D depth camera, they are able to create a 3D image of the patient’s body. This technology will be very effective in operations that need to avoid blood vessels, like in an emergency operation or biopsy on organs. Their future focus will be on applying this technology into future medical devices such as robot surgery, MND, projectors, and more.

VPIX Medical

VPIX Korean medical startupKorean medical startup VPIX Medical provides a different way of observing cells through an innovative scanning method. Therefore, they are developing a research instrument that can enhance biological and medical research by providing a solution for in-vivo imaging. They are looking to create a handheld microscope that can be used during cancer surgery. The device will allow for cells to be visualized in real-time without cutting tumor tissues. Therefore surgeries will be completed faster, which will lead to faster recovery for the patients.