PUTRAJAYA, April 26 (Bernama) -- Beginning Thursday, scientists,entrepreneurs and policy-makers will be mapping out strategies at athree-day conference here for Malaysia to generate more wealth and effectgreater social well-being through a relatively new growth sector --biotechnology.
Entitled BioMalaysia 2005, the conference will look at various initiativesas biotechnology has been identified as the new engine of growth forMalaysia.
To be opened by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Datuk Seri Abdullah AhmadBadawi, at 9am Thursday, the conference, under the auspices of theMinistry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), will search fornew avenues in biotechnology to improve the quality of life, generate newwealth and income for rural and urban Malaysians.
The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Datuk Seri DrJamaluddin Jarjis, said recently that Malaysia's rich fauna and floraprovided a potentially rich reservoir of natural resources for healthcareapplications and agri-food production.
Together with the country's existing manufacturing excellence andadaptable human capital, Malaysia offered great potential for strategicpartnerships and investment opportunities in the agro-biotech businessdevelopment as well as pharmaceutical discoveries, he told a recentworkshop on biotechnology.
For instance, he said Malaysia could even be a "test bed" forbiotechnology companies.
A study by Ernst & Young showed that countries in Asia are beginning toplace greater emphasis on biotechnology.
While Australia currently leads the region with 228 companies involved inbiotechnology, Japan may eventually take over the lead, the report said.
The Singaporean and Thai governments have already initiated programmes tojump-start their biotechnology sectors.
For instance, major pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis and Pfizerhave set up a laboratory and manufacturing plant in Biopolis, Singapore'sglobal hub for biomedicine.
Carol Wong, executive director of Ernst & Young Malaysia, recently saidMalaysia offered several value propositions as a potential biotechdestination as its rich natural biodiversity resources provided potentialfor new biotech products.
Malaysia, she said, has been recognised as one of the 12 countries in theworld with mega biodiversity as it is home to 15,000 different plantspecies, 4,000 kinds of marine fish and 150,000 insects and invertebrates.
In addition, Wong said the government's commitment on driving thecountry's biotech agenda and the availability of R&D facilities andcompetencies, especially in agri-related domains, provided opportunitiesfor product differentiation from other countries in this region.
Wong cited examples like the Malaysian Agricultural Research andDevelopment Institute (Mardi), Malaysian Palm Oil Board, Rubber ResearchInstitute of Malaysia, the Malaysia-Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyBiotechnology Partnership Programme (in palm oil and natural products) andUniversity Putra Malaysia (in palm oil and agriculture).
Dr Sharr A. Harmin, managing director of the National BiotechnologyDirectorate (BIOTEK), said with biotechnology being relatively new inMalaysia, R&D activities are mostly carried by research institutes anduniversities.
Some plantation companies and private laboratories carry out R&D mainly ontissue culture of several industrial crops and flowering plants while someanimal vaccines have been produced to assist in animal husbandry.
In taking stock of Malaysia's strengths, Dr Sharr said the areas of focusin this country should be in the agricultural, health, and industrial andenvironmental biotechnologies.
For instance, biotechnology today is still closely related to foodproduction, a multi-billion ringgit industry. In addition, biotechnology'scontributions to medicine and healthcare are growing rapidly, especiallyin terms of further improving the health of people.