Medipost aims to dominate global biopharmaceutical industry

Firm specializing in cord blood expands business to develop stem-cell treatments

In the early 2000s, Korea was basking in the biotechnology boom thanks largely to advanced stem cell research.

Strong government support led many research centers to open up bio-related facilities including cord blood banks.

The biotechnology heyday didn’t last long. It was dealt a serious blow when Hwang Woo-suk was found to have fabricated data in his cloning research in 2005.

Unlike other many bio venture companies that suffered from the fallout of the scandal, Medipost was able to keep a strong position in stem cell research and has taken the lead in the cord blood industry.

Behind the survival and enduring success is Yang Yoon-sun, the founder and chief executive officer of Medipost. She has consistently underscored the importance of cord blood for the last 11 years. Cord blood refers to the blood that remains in the umbilical cord after a baby is born. It is known to have rich biological matter that can be used by family members for lifesaving treatment for conditions including leukemia and immune system illnesses.

Many Koreans were not familiar with cord blood until Medipost made the start. After the appearance of Medipost in 2000, cord blood banks began springing up like mushrooms.

People are now utilizing the preservation facility in large numbers. Cord blood savers can sign up at the Cell Tree, the specialized bank run by Medipost, and number more than 130,000 people, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 2010.

The company has the largest market share ― 41 percent ― while its closest rivals hold only 13-15 percent, the data showed.

A professor of entrepreneurial management at Wharton School, Raffi Amit, strongly recommended Medipost for its remarkable influence over the general public in Korea and its fine entrepreneurship. At the Entrepreneurship Week conference held in Seoul in 2010, he even described the company’s business strategy as a Korean version of Apple.

It was only a small part of Yang’s effort that paved the way for the public to be aware of such medical knowledge. To gain professionalism and competitiveness against rival companies, she chose to keep the research budget above 50 percent of total revenue.

Its tactics were eye-catching and often compared with other companies in the same field. In contrast to how conventional biotechnology centers were run, solely focusing on research and experiments, Yang drew a clear business plan from the start. Consistent income was what made further studies on new medicines and projects available for Medipost.

Now, Medipost said it is putting more weight on developing stem cell medicines. The next stage is to develop cures using stem cells for what have been incurable or unexplainable diseases.

Medipost has finished its clinical trials on the world’s first stem cell medicine and received approval from the U.S. Federal and Drug Administration.

The company’s accumulated studies and facilities were huge resources for Medipost to prosper in Korea and out, company officials said.

Although profit is increasing 50 percent every year on a stable basis, Yang refuses to call her achievements so far a “success.”

“I will drive my company forward until people will use the word ‘Medipost’ instead of ‘stem cell medicine.’ What Medipost has produced so far is just ground work of future accomplishments from now on,” Yang said.

The CEO graduated from Seoul National University medical school and worked at Samsung Seoul Hospital from 1989-1995. After teaching undergraduates in many universities including Korea University, she began to focus on stem cell research from 2000 with the start of her business.

By Monica Suk (