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He is the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021

JungJin SEO

JungJin SEO, Honorary Chairman of Celltrion Group, South Korea, has together with his colleagues developed drugs to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases and COVID-19.

The entrepreneur JungJin SEO knew very little about science or medicine before founding a biopharmaceutical firm in 2003, describes EY in a press release. He studied Industrial Engineering but lost his job at an automaker during the Asian financial crisis. Looking for new business opportunities, he heard a leading scientist talk about the future of medicine and decided to start his own biopharmaceutical company with colleagues. Today, Celltrion is a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, states EY in their press release.

“Entrepreneurship to me has always been about bringing together a group of people toward a common vision, embracing challenges as opportunities and committing oneself to contribute to the greater good,” he says.

The potential of biosimilars

At first, Celltrion manufactured drugs for other companies, but JungJin was keen to branch out. He spotted the potential of biosimilars — biologic medical products highly similar to already approved biological drugs used to treat diseases such as cancer. Borrowing money to travel, JungJin researched the concept by interviewing scientists all over the world. He then led his team to develop biosimilars to original monoclonal antibody treatments that mimic the natural antibodies the body generates to fight infection.

Celltrion launched Remsima, the world’s first biosimilar monoclonal antibody drug, for the treatment of autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and arthritis. The success of Remsima was swiftly followed by the launch of treatments for breast cancer and lymphoma in South Korea, Europe and the United States. JungJin believes Celltrion’s drugs offer affordable alternatives to a greater number of patients around the world.

Turn a crisis into an opportunity

Not every project has been successful. Early on, JungJin risked losing everything after investing heavily in the contract manufacturing organization facilities for an HIV vaccine that failed in clinical trials. Fortunately, a shrewd investment in facilities to manufacture drugs for other companies enabled Celltrion to stay afloat. Since then, JungJin says the ability to “overcome the fear of failure and turn a crisis into an opportunity” is part of the company’s culture.

Photo of JungJin SEO