Call for boost in biobank ecosys­tem

The Nation - - ASIA INNOVATION -

EX­PERTS SAY Korea needs to shape biobank­ing sys­tem in ac­cor­dance with the needs of lo­cal biotech busi­nesses.

Korea’s biobank sys­tem must pro­vide more sup­port to com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions if the coun­try is to make the most of the re­source, ex­perts have said.

At the Korea Biobank Fo­rum in Seoul last week, they ar­gued that the state-run Korea Biobank must move be­yond its cur­rent re­search fo­cus if South Korea is to take the lead­er­ship in fields such as pre­ci­sion medicine.

Over the past decade, lead­ing coun­tries in health care, in­clud­ing the US, UK and Ja­pan, have es­tab­lished biobank­ing sys­tems, which col­lect and store hu­man bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples such as tis­sue and ge­netic data for use in re­search. In Korea, the Min­istry of Health and Wel­fare es­tab­lished a biobank sys­tem in 2008 un­der the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol.

Biobanks ac­quire huge amounts of data, such as ge­netic and health records of pa­tients with spe­cific con­di­tions like can­cer and coro­nary heart dis­ease. These are ex­pected to play a foun­da­tional role in en­abling pre­ci­sion medicine, which medicine uses large datasets as­so­ci­ated with cer­tain dis­eases to de­fine in­di­vid­ual pat­terns of dis­ease and sus­cep­ti­bil­ity and hence tai­lor treat­ments to pa­tients.

Korea’s biobank­ing sys­tem cur­rently op­er­ates a na­tion­wide net­work of 17 univer­sity-af­fil­i­ated hos­pi­tals that col­lect biospec­i­mens – such as tis­sues, DNA, plasma – from con­sent­ing pa­tients. As of 2016, the Korea Biobank had col­lected bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples from some 770,000 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the KCDC.

But at last week’s fo­rum, ex­perts ar­gued that the coun­try’s sys­tem was overly fo­cused on aca­demic re­search, at the ex­pense of other uses.

As of this year, the bank’s bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples had been used in 1,915 R&D projects, ac­cord­ing to the KCDC.

The projects have led to 751 pub­lished re­search pa­pers but the num­ber of patent registrations is just 46, in­di­cat­ing that the biobank’s ties to the com­mer­cial biotech in­dus­try are much weaker than its aca­demic links.

“Right now, Korea’s biobank is cen­tered largely on aca­demic re­search. It lacks knowl­edge of what kind of re­sources (biotech-re­lated) busi­nesses need and want from the in­sti­tu­tion,” said Kim Han-kyeom, a pro­fes­sor at Korea Univer­sity’s Col­lege of Medicine who spe­cialises in pathol­ogy.

Ex­perts also more dif­fi­cult for busi­nesses – com­pared to uni­ver­si­ties or re­search in­sti­tu­tions – to ob­tain reg­u­la­tory ap­proval to ac­cess the biobank’s re­sources.

“Busi­nesses are obliged to first ob­tain the In­sti­tu­tional Re­view Board’s ap­proval in or­der to ac­cess bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples from the Korea Biobank. How­ever, it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble for pri­vate firms to ob­tain IRB ap­proval un­less they are work­ing on a state-com­mis­sioned project,” said Kim Tae-ho, CEO of Cure Ther­a­peu­tics.

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