Now it’s time to take a look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. People often attach medical adhesives to their body, such as motion sickness patches, anti-inflammatory pain relievers, and nicotine patches. These adhesive patches are constantly evolving. They have few side effects that might be caused by taking pills, such as stomach disorders and abnormal liver functions. Since their effects last a long time, patches have been developed as a treatment for asthma, Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer. Taking this a step further, a company has developed a patch-type beauty product using the latest biotechnology. Let’s meet with Chung Do-hyun, head of a bio-venture firm called Raphas.

Our company developed the core technology for manufacturing the “Dissolving Microneedle Patch”, and applies the technology to cosmetics products and medicines. Like a pain relief patch, it delivers active ingredients to the body through the skin, not using injections. In contrast to traditional patches, on which a drug is coated, tiny structures called microneedles on the patch penetrate through the skin to deliver active ingredients to the body effectively. This skin-based drug delivery platform has the same effect of injections but can be used more safely and conveniently, just like patches.

“Dissolving microstructures” are a new technology secured by the company. Ultra-structural needles called microneedles or microstructures are dissolved deep inside the skin and deliver active ingredients directly into the body, taking effect immediately. Anyone can use them easily and painlessly, just like applying a patch on their own. Mr. Chung earned a doctoral degree in biotechnology at Yonsei University, worked as a researcher at a local pharmaceutical company, and served as an adjunct professor at a university. He began to run a company in 2009 to help more people benefit from effective medicines developed by new technologies.

Previously, microneedles were produced in the form of micro-molding. But the complicated, time-consuming method was not appropriate for mass production. We came up with a unique method called Droplet-born Air Blowing, or the DAB technique, which can produce or change patterns as we want. It takes only five minutes to manufacture them, which means the method is ideal for mass production. Also, the technique is effective in sustaining the strength of microneedles and therefore maximizes their effect.

When the company was established, local universities studied the microneedles but they stopped short of commercializing them. Dozens to millions of microneedles should be attached on one patch, depending on its size, and it was difficult to mass-produce them. To solve this problem, Raphas developed the innovative DAB technique. After more than four years of research, the company successfully developed a system of making microneedles directly on the patch, rather than transplanting the needles onto the patch. That led to the world’s first commercial use of a new drug delivery system or microneedles, which had only been used in labs before. Having received 18 patents from South Korea, the U.S., Japan and China, Raphas unveiled a new cosmetics product in 2012.

The first beauty device using our microneedle technology is called “Acropass.” While previous cosmetics patches simply stay on the surface of the skin, this product delivers active ingredients deep into the skin. In the process, the tiny needles stimulate the skin to produce fresh collagen or new cells. Acropass is made by adding hyaluronic acid, which is absorbed into the skin and helps reduce wrinkles temporarily. It is a whole new beauty product with amazing functions that are not found in existing cosmetics goods.

When the Acropass patch is applied on the face, microstructures with one-third the thickness of hair penetrate the skin like needles and reach the epidermis to deliver active ingredients efficiently. For that reason, this product is highly effective in improving wrinkles, promoting skin elasticity and providing moisture to the skin, especially compared to facial masks or liquid-type cosmetics goods. It was foreign markets that first recognized Raphas’ products with remarkable functions.

As soon as we secured the technology to mass-produce the goods late in 2012, we began to provide our products to a Japanese company through the Original Design Manufacturer, or ODM system. In 2014, we started to supply our products to a company in the U.S. in the same way. Since then, our export destinations have expanded to European countries such as England, Spain, Russia, Italy and Germany. In 2016, my company received the prestigious Jang Young-shil award and various other prizes as well, including the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Energy Award. We also became one of the recipients of the Hi-Seoul Good Products Awards.

Raphas’ new patch joined the list of the 2014 Most Innovative Beauty Products announced by U.S.-based business magazine Forbes. In 2015, the company achieved 16.3 billion won, or 15 million US dollars, in sales. Now, it has an even bigger dream.

Our vision or dream is to develop patch-type vaccines. Many people in third-world countries in Africa are not fortunate enough to benefit from vaccines. That is because vaccines require refrigerated transportation and only medical staff are allowed to use them on patients. But patch-type vaccines, if developed, can be delivered at room temperature. Moreover, patients can attach them to their body by themselves. So the products can save a lot of lives, even without help from doctors or nurses. It will definitely be worthwhile. This is our ultimate goal and we’re working hard to fulfill this dream.

The compound word “Raphas” is formed from the words “Rapha,” meaning “heal” and “path.” The name represents the company’s objective to serve as a path towards healing for all people. For this goal, Raphas constantly develops new technologies and applies them to various areas. This innovative company is surely contributing to enhancing the health and happiness of mankind.