What new Initiatives is Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation currently involved in?

KAMAL: Last year during BioMalaysia, the Prime Minister launched Bioeconomy Initiative Malaysia (BIM). This initiative will bring about a new focus in terms of the use of life sciences industry. The current focus worldwide is geared towards renewable energy as an alternative source of carbon for bio-based chemicals production. Some of the focus areas of the Bioeconomy are Extracts, BioFeed, BioControl, BioFertilisers, Genomics, BioSimilars and bio-based chemicals. Bioeconomy Initiative Malaysia will most likely increase our GNI leading up to the year 2020. This initiative will pump new ideas into our national biotech policy that was put into place in 2005. Now the National Biotech Policy is in its second phase, which will bring about new ideas and new ways of utilizing renewable energy. The main component that we have right now is our palm oil material, which is a source for carbon that we use to produce bio-based chemicals. We are now taking a hybrid approach with regards to areas of biochemical, microbiology, and chemical technology. I believe that focusing on these areas will most certainly benefit Malaysia as a whole.

How would you describe the funding environment for biotechnology companies in Malaysia?

KAMAL: Funding has been a continuous issue for the industry. Funding for the biotech industry is very scarce right now because of the economic downturn in Europe and the US. Biotechnology is a fairly new industry in Malaysia. We want to really focus on convincing the venture capitalists to create new funds for biotech. We are currently looking at new funding mechanisms and are working closely with several fund managers to create biotech funds. Right now, we have a biotech commercialization fund, which has proved to the government that we can provide a bridge for companies to transition into the commercialization stage from the start-up stage. I believe by working with venture capitalists to create new funds, that the funding mechanism will be much better for the industry within the next couple of years.

How would you describe the operating environment for biotech companies here in Malaysia? What are the biggest non-funding challenges that the industry is currently facing?

KAMAL: The National Biotechnology Policy launched in 2005, lays out Malaysia’s plan for biotechnology development over 15 years and three phases – the Capacity Building Phase from 2005 – 2010, Science to Business from 2011 – 2015 and Global Business from 2016 - 2020. Today, we have a total of 215 companies that has been accorded with the BioNexus status by the Government of Malaysia. This is very encouraging to see. There has also been an influx of new FDI in terms of operating in Malaysia in the areas of industrial biotech and healthcare. As a result, I believe that we have created a very conducive environment for the industry. Apart from funding of costs, we have created a lot of incentives. The incentives are very unique and are focused on driving new companies to enter into biotech and to grow the industry. With the implementation of Bioeconomy Initiative Malaysia, the government will now be committed to ensure that new companies in the industry will eventually be successful. After the last exercise we did in the lab, I am quite happy to see that many companies are becoming more creative with the use of natural resources, raw materials, and our drug discovery program. We are focusing on improving the utilization of biomass in terms of the production of bio-based chemicals. We are also creating Bio-XCell, which is a custom-built biotechnology park right across from Singapore. In the next couple of months we will announce new cluster developments in terms of biorefinery clusters. I believe that we have taken a position that has created a promising environment for the industry.

What is the biotech industry’s contribution to the overall GDP of Malaysia? 

KAMAL: The biotechnology industry contributes roughly 2.2% towards Malaysia’s GDP and about $5.4bn in investments for private and public spending. We believe that we can increase these numbers with the environment that we have created and the new incentives provided by the government. We are starting to see exciting new investments coming into Malaysia in the areas of aquaculture, industrial biotech, and healthcare.

What segments or niches in the biotech industry present the best opportunities for growth and development? 

KAMAL: I believe that industrial biotechnology is definitely a notable growth prospect. The use of biomass from the palm oil industry as a new source of material for bio-based chemicals will create an alternative source of energy that will increase business opportunities for the industry. Also, I believe that healthcare has become more dependent on life sciences and we will implement new technologies in order to enhance the industry’s drug development program. Furthermore, I believe we have a great opportunity to increase our use of biomass and materials from agriculture. Many more companies will be looking into Asia Pacific for investment opportunities. Malaysia’s position in the region is strong because of our good infrastructure, governance, and intellectual property management. These ingredients will hopefully convince companies to consider Malaysia as a base of operations over other countries in the region.

What makes Malaysia an attractive destination for companies looking to carry out their business operations here?

KAMAL: The 2009-2010 Global Competitiveness Report ranked Malaysia 2nd among Asian countries and 37th worldwide. This has created a positive global perspective for Malaysia. Malaysia is one of the more developed countries in the region. It has strong financial climate and intellectual property management system, which creates conducive environment for companies to invest and grow in. Currently, we are investing in positioning Malaysia as a regional headquarters for many companies. Our strategy is to turn to Malaysia into a corridor for Asia. We have been successful in bringing new headquarters to Kuala Lumpur. We hope to be continuing this for the next 10 years.

What are the best opportunities for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the biotechnology sector here in Malaysia?

KAMAL: With regards to further investment, we have to be very selective considering the fact that our labor costs are not as competitive as some of our regional neighbors. We are quite selective in the sense that we are investing more into knowledge-based industries. I hope by investing properly, we can increase the income status of our people. Currently, the average middle income is roughly $9,200. We plan to increase this number to $15,000 by the year 2020. As a result, this will push our country to becoming a developed nation. In that perspective, we are very selective with FDI. We are looking at areas that will utilize technology as a means of investment. We are not looking at high labor-intensive industries but rather towards more of the knowledge based industries. Biotechnology is considered to be a knowledge-based industry that requires knowledge workers with strong research and development capabilities with excellent business acumen to convert the research into meaningful and commercialize products and services. This demand for knowledge workers necessitates a comprehensive and strategic human capital development to be in place for years to come and this alone, impose a great challenge to-date.

What are your overall objectives for the BioMalaysia Exhibition and Conference 2012?

KAMAL: The BioMalaysia Exhibition and Conference 2012 will be held on November 5th-7th. It will summarize all of our efforts that have been put into this industry since the beginning of the year. The main focus will be geared towards business-to-business meetings. By setting up the platform this way, we hope to increase the intensity of the business in the country and facilitate collaborations and partnerships between Malaysian companies and companies from overseas. We are expecting companies from Europe, the US, Japan, and Korea. We will also have a huge exhibition. Also, this year BioMalaysia is held in conjunction with the Kuala Lumpur Innovation Forum, we hope to also provide platform for discussion on new technologies. There are roughly 8,000 people coming to the exhibition and close to 1,000 for the conference. We are working closely with EBD from Europe on partnering, which we hope will increase the intensity of future business prospects. That will be an opportunity for our local companies and overseas companies to work closely and discuss collaboration. We hope this will increase the value of the conference. At the same time, a crucial point this year will be Bioeconomy Initiative Malaysia. We hope to see new players entering into the business especially from our palm oil producers. We want to give them a growth model in terms of investing into biotechnology.

What role does the biotech industry play with regards to environmental protection here in Malaysia?

KAMAL: I believe that there is a lot of potential for growth and investment in the industry. We are working closely on environmental protection through the utilization of biotechnology. We hope that we can reduce the use of materials that are harmful for the environment. This will be one of our biggest contributions to Malaysia as well as the rest of the world.