Your 10 questions

  • Business
  • Saturday, 16 Jan 2010

Malaysian Biotech Corp CEO answers ...

1. Why do you believe that Malaysia can succeed in biotechnology? – Casey Chin, Setapak

Malaysia’s biodiversity, our progress in agriculture, manufacturing and services as well as our human capital development are key factors for success in biotechnology. Malaysia is biodiverse on a mega scale; we are placed seventh in terms of biodiversity on a global scale.

This means the potential for beneficial compounds derived from our forests, rivers, lakes and the sea around us is far from fully discovered, researched and commercialised.

The success of our agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors in its present conventional form provides an excellent base to be moved up the value chain with biotechnology. Biotechnology provides the system and methods to ensure food quality and security, whilst cleaning up and preserving the environment and improving healthcare for all Malaysians.

Meanwhile, our education system and training, and the quality of talent we produce in the life sciences and biotechnology, business development, marketing, product development, legal and regulatory, intellectual property, banking and finance, information technology, and communications sectors are critical in building a strong ecosystem for the success of biotechnology in Malaysia.

2. What’s the rate of progress of biotechnology in Malaysia? Do we need to move more aggressively? – Bulbir Singh, Seremban

Progress in biotechnology can be measured through the number of biotech companies, total approved investment, revenue generation, number of knowledge workers and contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).

To date, BiotechCorp has facilitated the development of 139 BioNexus companies, accountable for RM1.5bil in total approved investments and accounting for more than RM600mil in revenue generation. Some 60%of BioNexus revenue is contributed by export sales. BioNexus companies are also responsible for developing more than 2,000 specialised knowledge workers to date.

Biotechnology activities now contributes 2.2% of GDP. To put this in perspective, all of this was achieved in three years since the launch of BioNexus status in 2006. BioNexus status, much like the MSC status, accords incentives for qualified biotech companies.

To move even more aggressively, we need continued enhanced support from all industry participants to deconstruct policy and bureaucracy, implement effective funding and venture capital options, improve technology transfer, patents and licensing. On the flip side, the industry has to closely support the Government’s focus on green and renewable technologies, including harnessing our country’s sustainable biomass feedstock.

3. When BiotechCorp goes around promoting foreign direct investments in biotechnology, what is it that you hear the most being said about Malaysia? – Choo Wai Meng, Penang

There is recognition of Malaysia’s fundamental strengths in biotechnology which makes this sector a viable investment choice. To date, investment in BioNexus stems from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, India, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Taiwan.

At the same time, there is still a lot of room for improvement in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). For example, we need to improve in offering a truly one stop biotech advisory and facilitation services across regulators, agencies and ministries. The incentives Malaysia offers need to be reviewed competitively in line with economies competing for biotech investments in this region. Complementary national incentives such as Malaysia My Second Home and brain gain initiatives need to be intensified to strengthen FDI in biotechnology.

4. In view of the growing number of biotech-based companies, why are the industries in Malaysia still employing more chemists, engineers, etc, but not biotechnology graduates? – Han Jer Deng

This may be true not only for Malaysia, but for countries focusing on biotechnology where there is a tendency to employ specialists rather than generalists.

There have been representations from the industry specifically for talent that goes deep, instead of broad, into the hard sciences. Thus, the requirements for microbiologists, physicists, geneticists by biotech companies for example.

This is also a matter that needs to be examined by Malaysian universities and training institutes in structuring curriculum or programmes that closely meet industry and business requirements that offer the right fit for biotech talent.

5. What’s the single biggest obstacle to Malaysia having a thriving biotechnology industry? – Albert Khoo, Damansara

There are two immediate key challenges: What are we going to do to truly hasten commercialisation of research and development (R&D) and what are we going to do to improve funding options.

The solutions to these challenges are not only in the domain of BiotechCorp to resolve but it takes concerted, sometimes even integrated effort, from all relevant sectors – public universities and research institutes, related government agencies and ministries, the financial and venture capital group, multinational companies and government-linked companies.

In short, a thriving biotechnology industry is often underscored by a dynamic R&D commercialisation environment, which in turn is efficiently funded and providing good and fair returns to investors.

Meanwhile, multinational corporations and government-linked companies in Malaysia need to increasingly consider linkages and viability of investing in biotechnology and related R&D especially if they are in the food, fuel, healthcare, energy, industrial or environment sectors.

At one time, businesses thought they could do without information technology but now no one thinks like that anymore. Biotechnology is the next wave – and the perspective to business – no matter how it may look in its present form. There are benefits to having a biotech tie-up.

6. Which achievement in biotechnology so far do you reckon has or will have the most impact on the world? – Farah Taib, KL

Specific to what Malaysia can uniquely deliver to the world is the work by the Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology, a BioNexus company and a subsidiary of the Genting Group, to complete the assembly and annotation of the oil palm genome and the work by Universiti Sains Malaysia, which has a team of local and international researchers to decode the first draft genome of the rubber tree. Yet another significant achievement is Bio-XCell, a BiotechCorp and UEM Land Bhd partnership project which is on track to build an ecosystem for global industrial biotechnology to converge in Malaysia.

7. Given your experience in the private sector, why did you join BiotechCorp instead of pursuing a career in the corporate sector? – T. Ganesan, Subang Jaya

On hindsight, it was not a decision that was lightly made. It obviously took time to review.

The pull factor was that it was a new, exciting start and if undertaken extremely well, has a potential huge impact on the Malaysian economy, not forgetting the well-being for all Malaysians. The pervasive impact of biotechnology is such that it provides solutions to most, if not all, challenges we are facing today – food, health, fuel, climate change.

The decision also came from a personal space – in regards to caring for the next generation of Malaysians and the resources of Malaysia that needs to be sustainable for the future. It is a responsibility I feel strongly about. I have three children, two teenagers and one in Standard 2. That squarely puts the responsibility I feel strongly about into perspective.

8. What do you like most about your job? – Adam Jaafar, Malacca

It is very exciting to deliver impactful results with the team at BiotechCorp, with the support of our government stakeholders – the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation – and the network of 139 BioNexus companies developed so far.

It is also very exciting to reach out to Malaysians through biotechnology to increase awareness and understanding of the solutions biotechnology can offer via projects such as BioUsahawan, BioCareer and BioMalaysia.

As part of the team that started BiotechCorp with the launch of the National Biotechnology Policy in 2005, it is also meaningful to build a strong foundation for the Malaysian biotechnology industry for future teams to take it to greater heights in commercialisation and building a global biotech business for Malaysia.

9. If you’re an entrepreneur instead, what sort of biotech business would you want to set up? – Abdul Karim Latiff, Ipoh

It would have to be around green technology and industrial biotechnology, which stems from a personal interest to see what more we can do to make our industrial and manufacturing processes more sustainable for our environment and natural resources.

This choice would also centre around Malaysia’s inherent strength in industrial biotech given the base of successful fuel and manufacturing businesses we have built thus far. We could really capitalise on the synergy of existing businesses in industrial biotech for Malaysia to create a unique selling proposition as an integrated industrial biotech hub for the world.

10. How difficult is it to understand all the scientific work that biotech companies do? Some of it is really cutting-edge stuff. – Karen Low, Kuantan

When the basis of science or biotech is to help make life better and to provide solutions, it is not difficult as much as it takes time to review and understand and to discuss with experts. It is also important to go beyond scientific work and understand how the science can be effectively applied. We have a good team at BiotechCorp, which is made up of talented individuals with solid depth and breadth of expertise ranging from science to commerce. We also have a strong network of collaborators within the country and globally. It is about teamwork.

Do you have a burning question you’d like to ask high-profile and interesting personalities? Then, this is your chance.

Our next interviewee is the world’s top-ranked squash player DATUK NICOL DAVID.

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