Article ID: CBB498505166

Correcting Life through the Marketplace? Genome Editing and the Commercialization of Academic Research in South Korea (2022)


This article follows the scientific and entrepreneurial career of one of the most prominent genetic engineers, Jin-Soo Kim, in order to analyze the fate of a vision of biotechnology in South Korea, in which academy, government, and industry came together to “correct” Korean academic and economic life. I show how the scientific and the economic were intertwined in Kim’s entrepreneurial lives, and so were the public and the private, commerce and law and virtue. As the founder of Toolgen, a biotech company specializing in genome editing, Kim built his career as a pioneer in biotech venture from the late 1990s, at a time when the Korean government tried to find certain opportunities in biotechnology amid the Asian financial crisis. I situate Kim’s early career as a CEO of Toolgen and his return to an academic post at Seoul National University (SNU) within the rise of biotechnology entrepreneurship and the institutionalization of academic patenting in South Korea as an alternative to catch-up industrial and innovation policy that would free the country from the dependence that its own lack of science and technological innovation imposed on it. By 2005, as I show, Kim had emerged as an exemplary entrepreneurial scientist at SNU, a role model for reforming an old, tradition-bound research university into an entrepreneurial university, thereby helping to transform South Korea’s industrial economy into a knowledge economy in an age of globalization. The fate of Toolgen and the scientific career of Kim, however, reflected the emergence of biotechnology entrepreneurship not only of perceived opportunity but of considerable resentments. I will end this paper with a brief discussion of a recent controversy over the ownership of his invention of the CRISPR technology at SNU. His story is thus a vista of the new ideas and sentiments of the 21st century global biotechnology manifested in South Korea.

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Authors & Contributors
Luk, Yi Lai Christine
Bruchez, Marcel
Newell, M. Karen
Sobol, Marion Gross
Huzair, Farah
Adi Sapir
Social Studies of Science
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
Comparative Technology Transfer and Society
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Duke University Press
UBC Press
Palgrave Macmillan
MIT Press
Intellectual property
Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship
Science and politics
Time Periods
21st century
20th century, late
20th century
United States
South Korea
Hong Kong
Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Human Genome Project

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