Korea’s Drug Registration Process: A Primer for International Pharmaceuticals Companies

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South Korea’s pharmaceutical sector is more vibrant and promising than ever. As one of Asia’s leading economies, South Korea has cemented itself as a major player in the global pharmaceutical industry.

In recent years, South Korea has seen exceptional growth in its pharmaceutical sector. A combination of strong economic indicators and robust innovation capabilities make this nation an attractive market for international companies. Given its highly developed healthcare system and growing aging population, the demand for new and effective medications is high. This presents expansive opportunities for foreign companies aiming for drug approval in the country.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) is the pivotal regulatory body that oversees the safety and efficacy of drugs in the country. It is the KFDA’s responsibility to ensure compliance with international and domestic standards, making it a central figure in the Korea drug registration process.

Overview of the Drug Registration Pathway in Korea

Entering a new market requires understanding and navigating its specific regulatory landscape. In South Korea, the drug registration pathway is defined and overseen by the KFDA.

Required Documentation

For pharmaceutical registration in Korea, companies must submit a comprehensive dossier of documents. This includes details of the drug’s composition, manufacturing process, clinical trial data, and proposed labeling.

Companies should meticulously prepare this documentation to avoid delays in the approval process. The documentation should adhere to the Common Technical Document (CTD) format and may require translation into Korean. Moreover, all documents should be up-to-date and reflect the latest findings and practices to avoid any possible inconsistencies that could raise red flags for reviewers.

Ensuring that each document is complete, accurate, and presented in a clear and organized manner is essential. Engaging a local regulatory consultant with expertise in Korean regulations and language capabilities can be extremely beneficial in preparing this critical documentation. Failure to comply with the requirements or any error in the dossier can lead to extended timelines, additional costs, and, in worst-case scenarios, rejection of the application.

Clinical Trial Data Requirements –

Clinical trials are foundational in the drug registration in Korea process. Foreign companies must provide evidence of the drug’s safety and efficacy through clinical trial data. This usually entails Phase I to III trial data, which should be rigorously designed and conducted in accordance with international standards.

The Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) critically reviews this data, and any discrepancies can result in significant delays. Therefore, it is essential that the data be robust, consistent, and transparent. Companies should also be prepared for potential requests from KFDA for additional analyses or clarifications regarding the trial data.

Collaborating with local clinical research organizations or consultants who are familiar with KFDA expectations and Korean clinical trial environments can prove invaluable in ensuring that the trials and data align with regulatory expectations.

Regulatory Timelines

Achieving Korea drug approval is a time-sensitive process. From the initial submission of documents to final approval, companies should anticipate a period of 12 to 24 months. Timely and accurate submission of requirements can greatly facilitate this process.

As regulatory review involves several stages, including preliminary review, main review, and final approval, proactive and responsive engagement with the KFDA is essential. It is advisable for companies to maintain open channels of communication with the agency and respond promptly to any queries or issues raised.

Companies should also regularly monitor the progress of their application and be prepared to adjust strategies based on interim feedback. Hiring a local regulatory affairs specialist who understands the intricate details of the Korean regulatory landscape can help to navigate these timelines more effectively, ensuring that all deadlines are met and that the process moves as swiftly as possible.

Special Considerations for International Companies

Entering a new market is never solely a matter of fulfilling regulatory requirements. There are cultural and regulatory specifics that foreign companies need to account for.

Cultural Nuances

Understanding and navigating Korean business culture is vital for international companies engaging in pharmaceutical registration in the country. Respect for hierarchy is paramount; age and position are highly regarded, and decisions often come from the top down.

Relationship-building, or ‘jeong,’ is another significant aspect, as it encompasses a deep and emotional bond between people, which is crucial in a business context. International companies should understand and respect these cultural nuances, as Koreans value politeness, modesty, and humility.

Fostering good relationships with Korean counterparts and understanding the local social intricacies, such as using appropriate honorifics and understanding gift-giving etiquette, can make a significant difference in successfully conducting business and navigating the registration process in Korea.

Regulatory Specifics

Foreign companies may encounter regulations that are unique to Korea. It is essential to have an expert, perhaps a local regulatory consultant, who understands the ins and outs of Korea pharmaceutical registration. They can guide the process smoothly, help with language barriers, and interpret complex regulations.

This expert can be invaluable in avoiding common pitfalls and ensuring that all documentation is submitted accurately and promptly, which is key to avoiding delays or rejections from the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA).

Streamlining the Registration Process for International Entrants

South Korea’s regulatory landscape can be challenging, but strategies exist that can significantly streamline the process.

Collaborating with Local Partners

Partnering with a local entity, such as a Korean pharmaceutical company, can be an effective strategy for foreign enterprises. Local partners are likely to have existing relationships with regulatory authorities and a deep understanding of the Korea drug registration process.

Such partnerships can enable smoother communication with authorities, faster resolution of issues, and more effective navigation of local regulations and customs. A local partner can also help in understanding the market landscape, identifying potential risks and opportunities, and devising a suitable market entry strategy.

Leveraging Global Harmonization Initiatives

South Korea is a member of the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH), which aims to standardize regulatory requirements globally. Engaging in these initiatives can be a strategic move for companies seeking drug approval in Korea, as it may simplify the registration process.

Being aligned with ICH standards indicates a level of credibility and can facilitate faster and more efficient review and approval processes. This harmonization is particularly beneficial for international companies as it reduces the amount of redundant testing and streamlines the preparation of regulatory submissions.

Post-Registration Considerations

Getting a drug approved is a significant milestone, but it is not the final step. Ongoing responsibilities follow Korea drug approval.


Pharmacovigilance is the science of detecting, assessing, and preventing adverse effects or other drug-related problems. International companies must establish a system for ongoing safety monitoring and reporting in compliance with KFDA regulations after pharmaceutical registration in Korea.

This involves the establishment of a comprehensive safety database, the training of staff in pharmacovigilance practices, and the development of procedures for timely and accurate reporting of adverse events, thereby ensuring patient safety and continued compliance with Korean regulations.

Periodic Reporting Requirements

After a drug is approved and on the market in the country, companies are required to submit regular reports to the KFDA. These reports provide updates on safety, efficacy, and other relevant data. These periodic reports are critical for the continued assessment of a drug’s risk-benefit profile and are a standard component of post-marketing surveillance.

Companies must be diligent in maintaining detailed records and ensuring that these reports are submitted on schedule, as failure to comply with these requirements can result in penalties, including the potential revocation of the drug’s marketing authorization.

The South Korean pharmaceutical market is a landscape of immense promise. For international pharmaceutical companies, achieving drug registration in Korea is a rigorous but navigable process. With careful preparation, respect for cultural nuances, and strategic collaborations, foreign entities can effectively enter and thrive in this vibrant market.

Now is an opportune moment for international companies to equip themselves for a seamless entry into Korea’s burgeoning pharmaceutical scene, capitalizing on the robust growth and innovation that characterize this nation’s healthcare industry.

Tran Doan – Director, Pacific Bridge Medical (PBM)
Ms. Doan leads Asian market research, regulatory, and consulting projects at PBM. She graduated with a B.A., Phi Beta Kappa, in Mathematics and Economics from Franklin and Marshall College.

Source used in the article: https://www.mfds.go.kr/eng/wpge/m_17/denofile.do