PHILADELPHIA: The slender and down-to-earth Iskandar Mizal Mahmood is one person who can easily go unnoticed in a crowd.
But the moment he starts talking about Malaysias biotechnology agenda, he oozes passion, emphasising the need for the spirit of the plan to reach the hearts and minds of the people.
With Malaysias emphasis on biotechnology for the future and the current global obsession with the field, the crown that the newly appointed 39-year-old Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (Biotechcorp) head wears is indeed a heavy one.
We have the means, manpower and resources to make the National Biotechnology Plan (NBP) work but whats equally important, if not more, is having the heart and passion.
Here I am talking of values that are needed for it to work. We want Malaysians from all walks of life to enjoy the economic value and the human values that can be derived from the NBP.
This is among Biotechcorps biggest challenges, he said in his first session with the media since being appointed to the post last month soon after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi launched the NBP.
Iskandar, who was the head of the Malaysian Technical Development Corporation before this, admits readily that the task ahead for Biotechcorp was humongous but says the Prime Ministers personal touch and vision for this sector has made his task easier.
While he agreed that the challenges posed by countries advanced in biotechnology were great, he said what they wanted to do was to reach the masses within the country.
For this to succeed, he said, Malaysias focus would be to collaborate rather than compete with others.
No one nation has the expertise and resources in all the areas of biotechnology. There will be specialisation and we want to collaborate with countries and individuals and become contract manufacturers, he said.
Several incentives, he added, would be put in place to attract the best.
He said were questions asked why Malaysia was focussing its biotechnology onslaught on the agricultural sector, in which countries like the US obtained only about 10% of its US$400bil (RM1,150bil) revenue annually.
Put it this way, 10% is really big and besides that, the values derived must also reach the farmers. We also have a huge agriculture treasure that can be tapped for the various biotechnological sectors, he said.
When reminded that many a grandiose long-term Malaysian plan had failed in the past because of poor implementation and political interests, Iskandar said the Biotechnology Implementation Council would ensure this would not happen.
While political support is vital for the plan to be successful, the NBP is being implemented to enrich the lives of all Malaysians. There will be no political interference as such, he said.
On the Bio 2005 Conference to be held at the Pennslyvania Convention Centre from Sunday to Wednesday, he said Biotechcorp was here to introduce Malaysia and its vast resources to the world as about 1,600 corporations from 60 countries would be exhibiting their niche areas.
We want to welcome them with open arms for collaboration in research and production, among other things.
We want to tell them about our NBP. We want to match-make potential investors with our biotech organisations and co-ordinate the initiatives, he said.
Malaysias delegation of more than 100 people from the Government and private sector is led by Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis.