Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Boost to Malaysian Biotechnology

The recently concluded BioMalaysia 2008 was a success, which saw the convergence of science and the industry. The exhibition reflected the seriousness of companies, both local and foreign in the industry. Compared to previous years, more ‘real’ biotech work was exhibited by both the private and the public sectors. These are certainly some good signs.

But the darling of the event was our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi who gave an excellent speech and showed his commitments in developing this sector and ensuring the nation sees the fruits of labour. This is important as so much of resources have been spent, in terms of funds, time, and human capital. As I always say – there is no turning back and we only have one speed option – full throttle. Biotechnology is not only the engine of growth for Malaysia, but globally. Countries that do not realise this will be lagging behind.

Serious and urgent efforts need to be taken to create conducive environment for the industry and research to flourish. I would like to reproduce part of his speech here:

The pool of Malaysian biotechnology knowledge workers, scientists and researchers must be expanded. Present efforts by public and private institutions to train qualified graduates must make a quantum leap in order to support the quantity and quality demanded by the industry. The legal and regulatory environment must be simplified to reduce delays and uncertainties, whilst maintaining protection of intellectual property as well as safeguarding the environment. The quality of R&D must be improved to increase the chances for commercialisation and value creation.

These are long-term issues, requiring consistent and steady effort. If all parties work together, with unity of purpose, there is nothing that cannot be achieved. Policymakers, regulators, scientists and industry participants must engage and understand each other. Complex issues, such as those involving industry development and environmental preservation, should be discussed in a way that leads to accord and solution. We must always be ready to meet each other half-way as we try to build a sustainable and competitive industry, while ensuring ethical conduct and ecological protection.

The Prime Minister rightly pointed out the need to build human capital, ensuring a balanced regulatory regime, and enhancing the quality of R&D work. My favourite was his request for policymakers, regulators, scientists and the industry to work together in drawing policies and regulations. Many do not realise that the repercussions of stringent regulatory regime or the lack of it. We have to strike a balance. This must be done in a transparent manner, after intensive and continued consultation with all stakeholders, and taking into account all the implications. No one wants to create disasters to the environment. In fact, modern biotechnology, particularly GM technology has not caused any negative effects to the environment or human and animals. Instead of being paranoid about emerging technology, we should be pragmatic and be able to weigh its benefits and potential risks. Regulations should be drawn to minimise risks and not completely halt the development of technology. Many technologies would not have passed the acid test if precautionary principles were applied. Automotive industry is an excellent example. The No. 1 killer in Malaysia is road accidents. However, that has not reduced the number of cars on the road.

I hope the advice from the Prime Minister will be taken seriously in decision making processes in order to give the biotech industry a push forward.
By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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