Growing with biotech industry


BY WONG SAI WAN

INS Holdings Berhad – a major player in the country’s biotechnology industry – is planning to list at least three of its 21 subsidiaries on the Malaysian Exchange of Securities Dealing and Automated Quotation (Mesdaq). 

“It makes sense for us to list them on Mesdaq because we need to attract the kind of investors that appreciate the innovation of our business,” said company founder and CEO Datuk David Yeat Saw Chuong in an interview. 

He said that although biotechnology is a rapidly growing industry, it entailed large investments and patience because it is only just catching on worldwide. 

Yeat: A self-made millionaire who made a living at the start by selling insurance by day and frying char kuey teow by night.

“The use of herbs and plants as supplements and medicine is actually old know-how that is only now being re-discovered. 

“Our company is now on this re-discovery trail with the application of modern science to further improve the technology,” said the 34-year-old businessman. 

As a sign of its commitment, INS is one of the first private companies to venture into the Bio Valley project and will invest RM25mil to set up a research and development centre. 

Yeat said the facility, scheduled to be completed by the end of next year, would be set up under its subsidiary company INS Zhen Ao Biotech Corporation Sdn Bhd, which has been identified for the Mesdaq listing. 

Admitting that listing via Mesdaq was a fast track way of getting access to public and institutional funds with minimum red tape, he said: “We have no choice because the speed of technology change demands us to have access to funds. It would be very sad if Malaysian technological advancement were slowed down because of this. 

“A listed status will also give a measure of confidence in our venture as well as ensuring a high level of commitment on our part.” 

Yeat, a self-made millionaire who left school at the age of 16, is the most unlikely player in the local biotechnology sector. He made a living at the start by selling insurance by day and frying char kuey teow by night. 

In 1990, Yeat, a polio victim, borrowed RM6,000 from a relative to bring into the country the first “talking dictionary cum organiser.” 

His marketing strategy was so successful that within a short time he had opened 40 outlets with 300 staff and made his first million. 

However, in 1997, he became one of the many victims of the Asian Financial Crisis and lost about RM3mil. 

He then re-organised his company from marketing to a manufacturing outfit and turned the group around within a year. Today, INS Holdings has four factories and a well-established direct-selling network. 

INS Holdings also has 21 subsidiaries that manufacture items ranging from food and beverages to bio fertilisers and bio fuel.  

One of the factories cultivates and processes wheatgrass, and the others make bio fertilisers and bio fuel additives, extract mineral water and cultivate lingzhi. 

Wheatgrass is a dark green leafy vegetable that is said to be more nutritious per gram than spinach. Lingzhi is a mushroom-based supplement that is said to have medicinal properties. 

In May, an associate company, INS Bioscience, launched the “So Easy” Slim Care Nutri-Scheme, which makes diet products that use palm oil waste as a base. 

Over the past few years, Yeat has turned his sight on China – both as a potential market and source of technology. 

The group’s Bio Valley initiative – INS Zhen Ao Biotech Corporation Sdn Bhd – is a joint venture between the Group and Dalian Zhen-AO Bioengineering Co Ltd, a biotech company from China, which makes ribonucleic acid extracted from soya bean. 

INS and the Chinese company have pledged to invest RM10mil each in the Bio Valley plant. 

In July, Yeat upped the ante in his co-operation with this Chinese firm when they signed an agreement not only to increase the level of technological exchange but also to cross-market each other’s product in their respective countries. 

The agreement was among three documents that Yeat signed during the much-publicised five-day visit by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to China recently. 

INS Holdings also signed an agreement with Beijing Leili Agrochemistry Co Ltd, another Chinese bio-agro company, to, among others, develop natural agro-nutrients for the Asean market as well as develop aloe vera antidotes and nutrients. 

Leili also agreed to assist INS to set up a franchise company in the Chinese market. 

However, Yeat was most excited by the third agreement – a Memorandum of Understanding he signed with the College of Food Science and Nutrient Engineering of the China Agriculture University to be the company’s think-tank for INS venture in the Bio Valley project. 

The MoU covers among others: 

  • Technology for extracting active ingredients from seaweed and other plants to find cures for diabetes; 

  • R&D into nutritional products to formulate a balanced diet that would help children’s intellectual development; and 

  • R&D into health foods to counter insomnia and diseases affecting the elderly. 

    “They are the best agriculture college in China and with their help, I am sure our products will be among the best,” said Yeat. 

    “We will initially invest RM1.5mil in helping them to set up laboratories in the college that will carry out R&D for our needs. 

    “Later on, we can bring these experts to our facilities in Bio Valley so that there will be direct technology transfer.” 

    He was so excited with this MoU that within a month of its signing, work on the laboratories was started and the Chinese scientists are expected to be in the new facilities before the year's end. 

    Yeat stressed that these agreements were only the first of many for INS in China. 

    “This is a win-win situation as we have the marketing skills and they have the technological know-how. These agreements will also give us a foothold into the vast Chinese market.”  

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