From MSC to BioValley
New Straits Times - Mon, 02 December 2002
Back to index

Special Report: From MSC to BioValley

By Cordelia Lee

A new race has begun. With biotechnology set to be the next engine of growth, you can bet that almost every country in this part of the world is vying to become the “Biotech Hub” of Asia.

While some industry observers are touting biotech as the next hottest thing to revive the gloomy information and communications technology (ICT) industry; skeptics believe that it’s just going to be another big load of hype.

No matter what the opinions are, Malaysia has clearly stated its intentions to become a significant player in this emerging industry.

What is BioValley?
Of late, there have been numerous news reports highlighting Malaysia’s BioValley initiative. Though it may seem that the biotech buzz has only hit town recently, it was actually back in the late 1980s that the Government first identified biotechnology as one of the five key technologies to help transform Malaysia into a highly developed nation by the year 2020.

At that time, the Government obviously felt that the country did not have the support of an established ICT to venture into more advanced bio research. Things are different now. Today, we have the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) to complement BioValley Malaysia and hence, officials say the time is ripe to blaze the trail.

The development of BioValley is expected to generate over 17,000 new jobs through the creation of 250 new biotechnology-related companies.
BioValley Development Corporation will manage BioValley, a dedicated zone for biotechnology industries in Malaysia, while the Biotechnology Development Directorate (BDD) will facilitate administration of entrepreneurial activities within the area.

Three institutes are to be set up, each of which will have a mandate to pursue research in the field of technology that is critical to the biotechnology industry, namely genomics and molecular biology, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, and agriculture biotechnology.

Recipe for success
When Business Computing raise the question with a few industry players on what they thought about our BioValley project, most were pretty sceptical. Drawing some of the lessons learnt from the Multimedia Super Corridor, many cautioned against ‘overselling’ BioValley Malaysia,

Now it may sound rather unfair to compare the two mega projects, but at the end of the day everyone will.

The basic ingredients for success are almost the same, especially the need for more biotechnopreneurs, skilled workers, researchers and scientists, world-class infrastructure, incubators, funding and the list goes on.

Understandably, everyone is absorbing this ambitious venture with a sizeable dose of caution.

But to be fair, it should be noted that Malaysia is one of the 12 centres of mega biodiversity in the world, and our rich flora and fauna are yet to be exploited for applications, such as healthcare and food production.

Late in the game
So does how Malaysia stack up against the rest of Asia?

Well, it’s no surprise that Japan, Taiwan, and Korea appear to be ahead of the curve with new start-ups and private entrepreneurial investments.
Over in Korea, the government plans to pump an estimated US$324 million (RM1.23 billion) to support research activities in genomics, bioinformatics, and emerging new biotechnology.

Biotech 2000, set up by the Korean government, is to place Korea’s biotechnological capability at the world’s top level by 2007.
At the same time, Indonesia is planning to come up with a Bio-Island, located in Rempang Island and targeted for completion in 2008. The construction will, however, only start in 2004.

Some of the biotech activities currently undertaken by Indonesia are genomic and transgenic plant research, and market-assisted breeding.
Over the next five years, the Singapore Government will be managing about US$700 million to develop Singapore into a biomedical hub of Asia.
Already, some say this is considered a significant sum for a small country like Singapore.

“Our focus point is to build a Biopolis to create a biomedical industry, which is similar to Malaysia’s BioValley and Indonesia’s BioIsland,” says Tan Tin Wee, founding director, Bioinformatics Centre, National University of Singapore.

Don’t forget that China and India have also begun attracting interest and investment because of their strong base of scientific excellence, cost advantages and large potential domestic markets.

So which of these countries will triumph? Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter as long as each country can find its own niche and collaborate.
Mark Bradley, chief executive officer of Australian Technology Park Innovations, suggests forming a regional alliance. “Countries in Asia should look for synergies and core competencies instead of competing,” he says.

Indeed, the Malaysian Government is now welcoming strategic alliances and research partnerships with the international scientific community to undertake joint discovery of bioactive compounds for healthcare.

It is far too early to comment on BioValley Malaysia as the project details are still rather sketchy. But whatever comes out of it, let’s hope that we are better prepared this time so as to avoid any potential criticisms from the industry.