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Reaction Paper #2


Starting a biomedical research institute in Korea

(KAIST Improvement of Biological Science in Korea)


Mar. 06 2008


“Pali-Pali”: Passion or Hastiness

(Fast Improvement of Biological Science in Korea)


Social and cultural factors, such as the aggressive mentality of the Korean people, high awareness of the challenges of globalization and political as well as historical contexts played the decisive role in its dynamic acceptance of new technologies (Aizu, 2002). The term “Pali-Pali: fast-fast”, explains the basic psychological and behavioral pattern of Korean people. In addition, Korean homogeneous and group oriented social context lead them into pursuing or catching up a certain trend. In the realm of innovation diffusion, these mentalities induce the fierce competition or fast reproduction in the society (Lau, 2005).


As one of returning sea-turtles from the U.S. (Biology Ph.D. degree from Chicago University on 1982), Dr. Ook-Jun Yoo has made a successful innovation of biology science in Korea. Chronologically his innovation activities can be categorized into five different stages: Burgeoning, Knowledge transfer, From quantity to quality, From laboratory to industry, and Lucrative future.


Burgeoning (1982~1991)

             When Dr. Yoo returned Korea as a new and young talented faculty member at KAIST, he realized that many enemies were waiting for him. Enemies are fierce political power games with government officers who would practice science/technology policy and peer researchers in Korean academia. He also struggled with the negative perception of scientists & engineers in the society. He counterstroke these challenges with establishing basic infrastructure and renovating Korean academy of bio-medical by using his advanced knowledge in the field and collaboration with the U.S. institutes. Whenever he had a chance to visit U.S. biological institutes, he bought new equipments which were new to Korea and cultivated strong relationships with top scientists. The strong relationship with top scientists and state-of-the-arts knowledge gave him an authority in Korean academy. Then he focused on setting up a good biological laboratory and ground rules in academia.


Knowledge transferring (1992~1998)

             During 1990’s, Korea enjoyed economic bubble and globalization. Korean government opened the gate of trade and education to general public on 1992 and this act induced a lot of passion for foreign products and education opportunities. Koreans could compare their products and services with directly imported ones and fierce competition was started in Korean market. R&D was not apart from this wild wind. Many top talented young scientists and engineers went to foreign countries to look for better research opportunities. In parallel with this fandom, R&D budget was dramatically increasing to catch up with developed countries and beat Asian competitors like Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong (called Asian Four Dragon). Dr. Yoo established Biomedical Workshop on 1992 to meet the need of advanced foreign technology in Korea and it made a great success for diffusing the new technology not only in academia but also in bio-medical industry. He trained more than 1,120 young Korean medical doctors and they became the foundation of building up the “Bio-Medical Research Center; now the biggest biomedical research center in Korea” on 1996. According to Rogers (1962, pp 254~284), the diffusion of innovation is highly dependent on “Change Agent”


Through out the world, the “developing countries” are attempting in a relatively brief span of time to narrow the gap between themselves and those nations with a richer technology and a higher standard of living. To achieve this, they are launching and carrying forward nation-wide programs of change and are inviting from outside thousands of specialist to strengthen these programs… It is sometimes assumed that understanding the change-agent role in any program for social change means the ability to apply techniques of change or to speak glibly of the strategy of change. This is a part of the role, to be sure, but only a narrow part… thus far, techniques and strategy have not usually been considered in their effects upon other programs… or in their effects upon other aspects of life than the one to which action is directed


As a change agent of Bio-medical innovation in Korea, Dr. Yoo engaged himself into the outreach programs and built up strong consensus among researchers and his action as a change agent was compensated by the strong commitment of young talented researchers and Korean government. Then, bio-medical research was boomed in Korea during the time.


From Quantity to Quality (1999~2004)

On 1998, the economic bubble was burst and Korea experienced a dramatic recession. However, when Korean government assessed the root cause of it, he found out that the economic crisis comes from the poor quality of social systems. Newly elected president and leading companies had focused on improving the quality of every social system including R&D. Especially, total R&D budget from national budget was surpassed 3% on 1999, and this showed that Korean society focused on building up strong competencies in R&D field to overcome the economic crisis by using technology innovations. As a moderator of Korean biomedical academy, Dr. Yoo changed the assessment system for researchers. He emphasized the quality of publications by weighing publication scores which were published in qualified international journals like Nature, Cell and Science.

             Changing the assessment system made a corner stone for biomedical research activities, many researchers focus on not only the quantity but also the quality of their research.


From Laboratory to Industry (2005~2008)

Commercialization is the key activity in an innovation. Dr. Yoo established GenExel, the world largest transgenic Drosophila library on 2005 and it was listed on KOSTAQ (Korean version of NASDAQ). He believes that research outputs should be commercialized to sustain the future research capabilities. By strong support from Korean government, the company is focusing in developing new biological drugs including humanized anti-bodies and encouraging innovation activities of researchers by running animal model facility.


Lucrative future?

Founding the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering in KAIST on 1999, the Korean biomedical innovation actions seems have a lucrative future. The institute gathered top bio-medical scientists and engineers from all over the world taking a role of brain sink for returning sea turtles. In addition, a research oriented hospital, named Pappalardo will be established on 2011. The hospital will be a big test bench for new anti-body drugs and it will be one of the a core research cluster at Dae-deok region. However, Dr. Yoo is not underestimating the challenges. He pointed out three major challenges of bio-medical innovation in Korea.

First, he concerned about poor research integrity in Korea. Since Dr. Hwang Woo Suk’s research misconduct on human embryo stem cell, Korea has tried building up systemic screening systems and a few months ago the system screened out big research misconducts in KAIST. However, due to the fierce competition of bio-medical research and development in Korea, the screen system usually not well functioned.

Second, unstructured grant design discourage the innovation capability. Although the R&D budget of Korea will reach more than 4.5% on 2011, Dr. Yoo is worrying about the grant structures in Korea. Many grants are provided to Promising researches but not to basic and creative ones. He is proposing a basic principle: “Opportunity for talent, Security for potential,” but the grant providers (usually Korean government) are skeptical to investing basic and creative researches.

Third, Dr. Yoo is worrying about bad perception of being a Scientist or Engineer in Korea. During the economic crisis, many R&D personnel were laid-off, and it gave a big negative impact to Korean society. Many math/science talented students don’t want to study nature science or engineering fearing about poor job security and low compensation. In addition, he confessed that it’s very hard to recruit top tier scientists and engineers who are now studying or working in developed countries. Many Korean sea turtles are abandoning returning to their home not because of their motivation but the poor chances and living conditions.

             But he is seeing a bright side. When he published a easy handbook book to spread the bio-medical knowledge for general public, he got a great amount of recognition from young students. His book motivated them and they decided to study the bio-medical science. He strongly suggests many scientists and engineers should try reducing the gap between general public and them.



From Dr. Yoo’s session, I realized that Biomedical innovation activities are quite successful but it also bear some flaws. The “Pali-Pali: Fast-Fast” culture in Korea catalyzed the compact and compressed growth of innovations. Homogeneous and group oriented social context encouraged making a social consensus for innovation, which accelerates the diffusion of innovations. But this fast growth come along with 1) focusing on short-term output, 2) separation from general public, 3) inequality among researchers which can undermine future innovation capabilities.

             So, change-agent who hopes to make a successful innovation should consider their critical roles in an innovation action as well as the social impacts of their activities. Dr. Yoo’s case proves it.


Summary of Workshop


Chronology of Korean Bio-Tech Innovation



Policy & Fund

Key Activities


1982 ~ 1991

-        R&D budget $230 mil. (1.6% from national budget)

-        Maximum Grant for Bio scientist ($9,000 / year)

-        Limited resources (No PCR instrument, No basic understanding about DNA technology)

-        Concerned about the number of international journal publication

-      Established basic infrastructure

l      Importing basic instrument from the U.S.

l      Sustaining research networks with the U.S. University

-      Renovate Korean Bio-medical academy

l      Networking with peer researchers in the field

l      Setup rigorous academic evaluation

Knowledge transferring


-        R&D budget overcome 2% from national budget

-        1992, Start BMW (Biomedical Workshop)

-        1994, First grant from Government for Bio-technology

-        Concern about the number of SCI publication

-        Transferring bio-medical knowledge to Korean Medical Doctors through national-wide five day molecular biology training course workshop

-        Since 1992, more than 1,120 medical doctors participated the course and got knowledge about advanced bio-technology

-        Based on a success of this workshop, BioMedical Research center planned on 1996

From Quantity to Quality


-        R&D budget overcome 3% from national budget

-        Concern about the “Impact factor” of journals

-        Focused on recruiting top-tier Korean scientists and engineers

-        The BioMedical research center was established on KAIST campus on 1999

-        Encouraging publishing at qualified academic journal which have high impact factors

From laboratory to industry


-        R&D budget overcome 4% from national budget

-        Strengthened the research integrity after SNU’s misconduct

-        Government announced the Biotech is one of the new technology for future for Korea


-        Established GenExel (world’s largest transgenic Drosophila library)

-        Listed KOSDAQ

-        Developing new biologic drugs including humanized antibodies

-        Integrating research outputs from laboratory and industrial innovation

Lucrative future


-        2011, the R&D budget will reach 4.5% from national budget

-        Graduate School of BioMedical Science and Engineering

-        Pappalardo hospital





Aizu, I., 2002. A Comparative Study of Broadband in Asia: Deployment and Policy. RIETI, http://www.rieti.go.jp/en/events/02042201/report_1.html (retrieved October 5, 2003)

Lau, T., Kim, S. W., & Atkin, D. (2005). An examination of factors contributing to south Korea’s global leadership in broadband adoption. Telematics and Informatics, 22(4), 349-359.

Roger, E., 1962. Diffusion of Innovations. Free Press, Chap IX.

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