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Hope Rises for Local Biopharmaceutical Membrane Production

2021-06-14 Academic

Campus Town Startup Project Group Case (2): UMTR, CEO Sung Ryul Park
Developed and manufactured the first bio-industrial membrane product in Korea
Technological edge and cost competitiveness landing government projects

A membrane is a selective barrier like a filter, allowing certain things to pass through while stopping others. When virus invades human body, for instance, it triggers the production of antibody that can only be created by microorganisms due to its complicated structure. When such antibodies are produced in the lab as part of a biopharmaceutical production, the produced antibodies then need to be separated from microorganisms, requiring a membrane that can precisely fit the size of the immunoglobulin. As such, membranes are essential to biopharmaceutics, but the global market is monopolized by a handful of manufacturers.

UMTR seeks to join the membrane manufacturing mainstream. This biotech firm, located at the biomedical startup center in the Hongneung Biomed Cluster, received the grand prize of the 2020 Kyung Hee Campus Town Startup Contest, hosted by the Campus Town Startup Project Group. The people at UMTR are working to localize the production of nitrocellulose membranes, used in biopharmaceutical membrane filters and in-vitro diagnostic devices. The pharmaceutical market is in much the same situation with the semiconductor market. Sung Ryul Park, UMTR’s CEO, explained why he launched his firm: “Domestic chip makers have no choice but to stop operation without imported parts. The same goes with pharmaceutics, where biological membranes are all imported from outside. Now, as Korea is being increasingly recognized as a biopharmaceutical production powerhouse and Korean biotech products and diagnostic kits are received well in the global market, the self-sufficiency of biopharmaceutical membranes at home will also become a significant issue.”

UMTR is following a product research plan in step with its projected growth stages since its founding in December 2019. According to the plan, R&D initially focuses on membranes for researchers, which can be developed quickly, and then the research will be extended to membranes for manufacturers, which takes longer to develop. The second phase will yield two different membranes for biopharmaceuticals and one for diagnostic kits. Research products can be quickly produced and sold while consumer products require extra time for government approval. The gap between these two phases is being used to develop membranes for diagnostic equipment. Another reason for which UMTR starts with membranes for university labs is to build brand awareness. A specific brand of products used in experiments are often continue to be used for the production of prototypes to reduce variability. Also, many professional researchers tend to stick with the brand they used in their college days. According to CEO Park, “When asked, researchers say that they choose what they are familiar with. Researchers working in sensitive areas are particular about replacing equipment. For the final product, they are likely to choose what they used in the developing stage.”

CEO Park began to work with Kyung Hee by chance. He was looking to lease a bio lab for his newly launched firm. Upon seeing the notice for the Kyung Hee Campus Town Startup Contest, he contacted the Project Group to see if winners could have lab space. The answer was “yes.” He immediately joined the contest and was honored with the grand prize. He was assigned an office in the Hongneung BioMedical Startup Center and a lab in Seoul Bio Hub/Bio Industry-Academia Collaboration Center. It was like a welcome rain for the CEO, who was struggling to secure a lab.

His hard work combined with diverse support measures is paying back. His company has already attracted two investors and registered two patents. He has three more technology patents, two design patents, and six trademarks pending. UMTR is also engaged in four government projects. “Kyung Hee provides an excellent foundation for startups like UMTR. We can use the labs and experience production on campus. The membrane is not as fancy as artificial intelligence, so I hardly expect that many students are interested in this area. If there are any, please come and see us. Despite the difficulties, my company is growing into a good one. I hope for a virtuous cycle of returning the help we have received from society,” he concluded.

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