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Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday October 20, 2013 MYT 11:52:38 AM
by lisa goh
Biotechnology has the potential to cut across various industries and transform Malaysia into a high income nation, with an inclusive and sustainable economy.
FANCY having a bug-patty burger for a meal? It might sound gross, but bugs and creepy crawlies may be the ultimate solution to reducing world hunger.
It is out-of-the-box ideas and solutions like this that BiotechCorp, an agency under the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti), is looking for under its Bioeconomy Transformation Programme (BTP).
Launched last October by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the BTP is a platform provided by the Government for the private sector to channel and maximise commercial opportunities in bio-based industries.
According to BiotechCorp, the BTP also aims to “promote a knowledge-based bioeconomy through the establishment of a sustainable ecosystem of research and development (R&D) and commercialisation in the areas of agriculture, healthcare and industrial biotechnology”.
“In Asia, we are the second country after China to have announced a bioeconomy initiative. Among the Asean countries, we are the first to do so.
“Even the United States has only just announced their National Bioeconomy blueprint last April,” says Zurina Che Dir, senior vice-president of BiotechCorp’s Bioeconomy Development Division.
When it was first launched, the BTP had set a target to increase Malaysia’s gross national income (GNI) by RM3.6bil by 2020, attract investments of about RM10bil, while creating 16,300 jobs opportunities.
This would be achieved via its 10 Entry Point Projects (EPPs) - Bio-based Farm Inputs, High Value Bioingredients, High Value Food Varieties, Biosimilars, Drug Discovery and Preclinical Services, Molecular Screening and Diagnostics, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, Industrial Bio Inputs, Bio-based Chemicals, and Biomaterials.
These 10 EPPs kicked off 20 trigger projects.
A year on, Zurina says BiotechCorp has an additional 13 trigger projects in the pipeline.
“Our new target is to increase Malaysia’s GNI by RM43bil, draw in investments of RM15bil and to create 160,000 job opportunities,” she says.
Currently, she says, participation is slightly skewed towards the AgBiotech (agriculture) and BioIndustrial (industrial) sectors.
“We need more participation for the BioMedical (healthcare) sector,” says Zurina.
How do these projects work?
Among the on-going trigger projects are the stevia trigger project, mushroom project, mangosteen project, and insects as a sustainable protein source.
“Take the stevia project, for example. The biotech company works with the Rural Development Corporation (KPD), who will identify farmers who are able to plant the stevia plants.
“These farmers will be provided with the seeds so that they can plant the raw material, which will be sold back to the company. The company will then use the extract to turn it into an alternative sweetener to sugar. This is the crux of bioeconomy – to convert biological resources into a higher value product,” she explains.
How will this benefit the public?
“If you look at the healthcare sector, for the EPP on Biosimilars, this project will enable drugs to be produced at 40% cheaper than that of innovative drugs. Lower prices mean more people can have access to these drugs.
“As for Molecular Screening and Diagnostics, it will be able to provide early detection for non-communicable diseases. All these will contribute to reducing the healthcare cost for the public,” she says.
So how can a company be a part of the BTP?
“Interested parties can fill in the application form available on our website (http://www.bioeconomy.my). We will then evaluate if the project is within the parameters and definition of bioeconomy. If we are satisfied, we will then contact the company involved to provide us with their project template, as well as how their proposal will contribute significantly to the Malaysian economy.
“Once we are satisfied, there will be a site visit. If everything is in order, we will submit the application to the BTP Technical Working Committee, who will then make the recommendation to the Steering Committee for approval and acceptance to the BTP,” Zurina explains.
Alternatively, interested parties can also contact BiotechCorp directly for more information.
One of the benefits of being a part of the BTP is that the respective companies will gain endorsement from the Government, she says.
The Prime Minister has also just recently announced an allocation of RM85mil for the BTP fund for the period of 2013 to 2015.
“However, companies have to realise that the Government can only fund as much as 10% for the projects. The private companies will have to fund the other 90%... the projects have to be driven by the private sector,” she says.
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Science & Technology, biotech, innovation
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