Developer of Wonbi-D drink dies at 97

Developer of Wonbi-D drink dies at 97

By Nam Hyun-woo

Il-Yang Pharmaceutical founder Chung Hyeong-sik / Courtesy of Il-Yang Pharm.
Il-Yang Pharmaceutical founder and honorary president Chung Hyeong-sik died at 97 on Saturday, the company said Monday.

Chung is considered one of the trailblazers of the Korean pharmaceutical industry, thanks to his feats of developing famous roborants Wonbi-D and Yeongbicheon, as well as a number of other drugs. His accomplishments have promoted health among Koreans and helped the local industry grow to export its drugs to overseas markets, the company said.

Born in 1922, Chung established the company in 1946 as a supplier of herbs and other ingredients for oriental medicines. The company earned a license for drug making in May 1957 and released its first product NORUMO digestive medicine two months later.

After changing the company's name to Il-Yang in 1960, Chung expanded the drug maker's capacity and released the flagship ginseng tonic Wonbi-D in 1971.

Since then, the drink hit its stride in domestic sales, giving confidence to Chung to export Wonbi-D and Wonbi-F to Japan, China, Hong Kong and even to the United States.

With continued growth in the 1980s, Il-Yang established branch offices in Hong Kong and Singapore and exported 20 pharmaceutical raw materials and finished products to 14 countries, the company said. In 1990, it released another hit Lingzhi mushroom roborant of Yeongbicheon.

In 1995, the company won a number of government medals for exporting more than 100 million Wonbi drinks and accumulating more than $10 million in exports.

As the company makes profits through its health tonic businesses, Chung concentrated on research & development for developing new drugs, allowing the company to release more drug products in the 2000s.

In 2008, the company received domestic approval for its antiulcer medicine, Noltec, as the No. 14 new drug in Korea. In 2012, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety granted an approval to Il-Yang's leukemia drug, Supect, and allowed the drug's commercial launch in 2016. Currently, Supect is under phase three clinical trials in many countries including China.

"For chronic myelogenous leukemia patients, they have to take medication throughout their lives, and the 100 billion won domestic market for such drugs has been dominated by three multinational drug makers," an Il-Yang official said. "However, with the release of Supect, which is 20 percent cheaper than rival drugs, the price of those drugs will be affected."

Chung was chairman of the Korea Pharmaceutical Traders Association and a standing member of the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He is survived by his wife, four sons, including Il-Yang Chairman Do-oen and one daughter.