Dr. Sun, you are a renowned physician and professor. What was your motivation to become a doctor and did you face any significant obstacles?
When I was young, I wanted to be an architect. I dreamed of building a beautiful house that I designed at the top of a hill where the sun rises and sets, a house in which I could live with those I loved. However, I could not persuade my teacher during my senior year of high school and ended up applying to medical school, following his advice. Recently, I watched the Korean film “Architecture 101” and was reminded of that lost dream.
In the beginning, studying medical-related courses was quite boring for me. However, during my second year of medical school, I began taking clinical courses and studying suddenly became very interesting. Looking back, I think that the reason I decided to become a surgeon is because like architecture, medicine involves many geometric elements. I became particularly attracted to the field of cardiovascular surgery, where one could come into contact with complex human organs and work with state-of-the-art medical equipment. I began following my cardiovascular surgery professors around to learn more about this new field. After meeting the renowned Professor Kim Hyung Mook and observing talented senior classmates, I was so inspired by their passion that I practically lived at the cardiovascular surgery department during my school vacations and was determined to apply to the department to follow their path. If anyone asks me what the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me is, I would be able to answer without hesitation. It would be meeting a great mentor, my professor.
I began a residency after I graduated medical school in 1981. Although I was often exhausted physically, I truly enjoyed my time as a resident because I learned more about cardiothoracic surgery and began to envision my future as a surgeon. The most difficult experience I had during my residency was conducting animal experimentation in order to domestically develop medical devices. The laboratory environment at the time was not as developed as today, and I remember spending my weekends performing experiments in that environment. I spent so much time at the hospital that I only visited my house 27 times during my first year of residency. Nevertheless, that experience remains a treasured memory.
“The future establishment of clinical drug testing and production facilities will be very important for biohealth industrialization. Our goal is to cultivate and eventually promote a company that can successfully compete in the global market. We will work to help the domestic biohealth industry advance, expand, and ultimately contribute to national growth.”
The most rewarding thing as a cardiovascular surgeon is being able to make a difference in the lives of patients. Although I have come to believe that there is something greater that dictates life and death as time has passed, I still believe the abilities of a doctor can be a powerful tool. If mankind is at the center of the macrocosmos, the heart is at the center of every man. The heart is the most important organ for a human to live and surprisingly, its functions are much simpler than other organs. As a doctor, this is why I am so interested in the development of artificial heart research and heart surgery.
We understand that you served as a professor at a prominent medical school and are currently serving as the chairman of Osong Medical Innovation Foundation (K-Bio Health), a government organization. How did you make the transition from being a physician to a successful government organization leader?
After I completed my studies and began my work as a clinical professional, I encountered limits in various aspects of South Korea’s medical technology. For years, South Korea’s clinical medicine had been simply utilizing the techniques of developed countries. As a result, I searched for more creative and advanced medical technology and began to develop appropriate medical devices for my country.
As I held various positions within academia, I realized that treating patients was not the only aspect of medicine. So I applied to graduate school to study business and received my Master of Business Administration degree. After that, I became interested in the Humanities and Social Sciences and continued to look for opportunities to learn, taking a variety of courses at different universities, including Seoul National University and Korea University. I still take online classes despite the limited time I have apart from work and other responsibilities.
I believe that South Korea’s biohealth industry can advance its medical technology and healthcare sector. In order for the biohealth industry to grow, it is important for medical technology and the healthcare sector to simultaneously work together to develop innovative technology. My research on artificial organs and my work as a board member of South Korea’s National Science & Technology Council, Co-CEO of the HT Forum, and head of KHIDI’s R&D department embody my vision for South Korea’s medical industrialization.
After I joined the Osong Medical Innovation Foundation (K-Bio Health) as chairman, I have been able to operate a larger role in driving medical industrialization. As a public institution, K-Bio Health supports the development of biomedicine and medical devices and provides necessary infrastructure to private organizations. It is difficult for the private sector to pursue R&D alone, but with state-of-the-art equipment from the public sector, medical industrialization can be sped up and the possibilities for failure can be significantly reduced. I believe that K-Bio Health is an essential institution that will play an important role in the industrialization of South Korea’s biohealth industry, which will drive growth in the future. Thus, with a strong sense of responsibility, K-Bio Health will continue to work hard to contribute to Korea’s economic growth.
Please introduce the Osong Medical Innovation Foundation (K-Bio Health). What are the philosophies or strategies of the institution? How do you distinguish the Osong Foundation from other potential competitors throughout the globe?
As it became clear that the biotechnology industry would become an engine for future economic growth, the Korean government decided to provide direct support for the R&D of domestic companies. This is how K-Bio Health was established in 2011. Currently, K-Bio Health is actively supported by Korea’s national government, as well as the Chungbuk provincial government.
K-Bio Health expedites the development period for new drugs and medical equipment, which typically takes around 10-15 years. Equipped with four comprehensive research centers and a fast licensing support system, we have built an unprecedented and impressive framework for the medical industry.
The new drug development center promotes the development of biomedical candidates and the medical device development center supports all other aspects of equipment research and development, including design, manufacturing and testing. Additionally, the animal experiment center provides a specialized preclinical environment with the largest veterinary diagnostic imaging system in the country. The clinical drug manufacturing center recently acquired a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certificate, verifying the high quality pharmaceutical production that occurs in the center.
Once the clinical drug testing and production facilities are completely established, K-Bio Health will become an important one-stop system that plays an important role in everything from basic research to industrialization. We will become the only bio cluster in the world.
As the Chairman of Osong Medical Innovation Foundation, what are some of the major performances and outcomes you have accomplished under your leadership? What are the long-term goals and visions you hope to see the foundation achieve?
Despite the fact that only a few years have passed since the K-Bio Health sites were established, both the operating capacity of each center and the number of research cases have increased dramatically. The research and development business has begun to show substantial results. Although it usually takes around 10-15 years for a biodrug to be developed, with our support for R&D and efficient license support business, we expect this period of time to be shortened and the probability of success to be increased. The future establishment of clinical drug testing and production facilities will be very important for biohealth industrialization. Our goal is to cultivate and eventually promote a company that can successfully compete in the global market. We will work to help the domestic biohealth industry advance, expand, and ultimately contribute to national growth.
As a key opinion leader in the Korean healthcare industry, what are some significant changes you have noticed in South Korea’s medical and healthcare industry? And what do you forecast the industry will be like in the next five years?
In recent years, the South Korean government has provided increased support for the biohealth industry after realizing its importance and potential for growth. In 2014, the biohealth market was valued at about $1.4 trillion, almost as much as the semiconductor, chemical products and automobile markets combined ($1.5 trillion). Over the next 10 years, the biohealth market is expected to grow even larger. Last year, one Korean pharmaceutical company acquired an $8 billion license agreement and others entered European and American markets. Korean domestic companies are being encouraged to look outside the domestic market. They have now began to change their business strategies and are shifting from developing and producing generic medicine to developing and producing bio medicine. I strongly believe that biohealth will become a defining industry for South Korea in the near future.
What advice do you have for young students interested in pursuing a career in medicine?
It is vital to ask and consider why you want to study medicine. Amongst yourselves, there may be those who aspire to research or practice medicine, as well as some who may have interest in the biotechnology industry. There are infinite opportunities in the healthcare industry.
Taking various opportunities such as going on observations will be of great help. With the biohealth industry growing rapidly, the role of physicians in both the research and business realm is receiving increasing attention. It is important and necessary to take this fact into consideration.
WKMJ has readers over 10 countries. Please share your final words or thoughts with our readers.
It is my pleasure to have this interview with WKMJ. Please support K-Bio Health as the Korean biohealth industry continues to expand beyond East Asia and develop worldwide. I will do my best to achieve our goals. Thank you very much.
Kyung Sun, MD, MS, PhD, MBA
Chairman, Osong Medical Innovation Foundation
Dr. Sun graduated from Korea University’s School of Medicine in 1981 with a medical degree. He received a masters in Medical Science in 1984. He also received a PhD in Medical Science in 1990, and an MBA in Business & Administration in 2007. Dr. Sun is currently chairman of the Osong Medical Innovation Foundation since 2015. In the past, he served as a director of the Korea Artificial Organ Center, a president of the Korean Society of Medical and Biologic Engineering, and a chair of the Board in Korean Society for Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Sun received an award for his contributions to Health Industry Technology from Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2008 and a National Medal for Presentation Order from the Korean Government in 2013. He is also a cardiovascular surgeon who serves as a professor at Korea University. The main scientific publications he has written or participated in include: Transparent and Flexible Force Sensor Array Based on Optical Waveguide (2012, Optic Express), A Durability Study of a Paracorporeal Pulsatile Electro-Mechanical Pneumatic Biventricular Assist Device (2011, Artificial Organs), Hemodynamic Energy Changes After Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury in an Aortic Cross-Clamped Rabbit Model (2010, ASAIOJ), and Korean Artificial Heart (Any Heart)—An Experimental Study and the First Human Application—(2003, Artificial Organs).