South Korea

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The world's eyes have been on fast-growing BRIC markets for several years now. In the CRO sphere, however, BRIC might be rebranded as BRICK: Brazil, Russia, India, China -- and Korea.

One only has to look at statistics to realize how big a player South Korea has become in the outsourcing game. The number of new clinical trials there increased to 513 in 2009 from 206 in 2006, making for a 150% spike over four years, according to CROAsia.

 "That's usually not an accident," Lewis said of the dramatic increase. "It's a conscious decision from a government to do that." One government initiative is KoNECT, a collaboration between the South Korean government and global CRO Quintiles to provide life sciences groups with clinical research resources, training and support.

South Korea boasts short lead times for new trials; startups there are among the quickest in Asia, Icon says. The country's well-tuned regulations and Institutional Review Board codes offer a firm legal foundation. And its healthcare infrastructure is solid, too. Goh says Icon works with Korean and non-Korean clients there on all aspects of drug development, from regulatory consulting work to Phase III trial management.

"Korean clients tend to be well-informed and very clear on their drug development strategies," Goh says. "They have ambitious targets that are focused on the European and U.S. markets."