Monday, April 27, 2009

Giving True Meaning to “Malaysia Boleh”

I attended an MoU signing ceremony between a private research organization and an European based multinational company recently. It was an honour for me to act as a witness for the signing of this MoU, as well as present a talk at that event.  Since the launch of the National Biotechnology Policy in 2005, we see a mushrooming of ‘biotech’ companies in Malaysia where many label their business as ‘biotech’. This is due to the enormous support provided by the government in terms of funds, financial schemes, tax incentives and special status of deserving biotech companies. Thus, there is a rush to share the ‘biotech’ pie. Sometimes, I feel we need to redefine ‘biotechnology’ to be able include all these companies and cluster them under the biotech industry. We often see wide spectrum of companies ranging from manufacturers of herbal concoctions to the ones producing ‘real biotech’ stuff. However, what I saw during this event gave new hope to the biotech industry in Malaysia. It was a testament that the industry is poised to grow and flourish on Malaysian soil.  
What brought a Belgium based company with a marketing network reaching to 70 nations in the field of animal healthcare, and employing over 700 staff who speak 20 different languages to Malaysia? The pull factor here is a private entity based in Tawau, Sabah which has created its footprint in aquaculture products and research. INVE, the Belgium based company saw great potential in an antiviral drug called RetroMAD1 produced by BioSatria Sdn Bhd for use in aquaculture and livestock industry. BioSatria is a spin-off company of Global Satria Group. The product developed by this company is no ordinary anti-viral. It involves genetic transformation which incorporates 3 different genes into recombinant bacteria to produce an oral-delivery multifunctional fusion protein that hits viral entry, fusion, integration and replication! Of course, the protein refolding is the difficult bit and this will become BioSatria’s drug pipeline platform producing ChAMPs or Chimeric AntiMicrobial Peptides. 

One can only imagine the amount of time, funds, and effort BioSatria spent to be able to develop this anti-viral to its ‘Proof of Concept’ phase…. I understand that more research is being carried out on RetroMAD1 to study its efficacy, safety, and other aspects. A number of trials will be carried out on different animal models to prove viral elimination in mammals as well as poultry. Research is also being carried out to upscale its production in bigger bioreactors. BioSatria’s sister company Defensia S/B will be studying human applications for these new drugs with the University of Malaya. 

RetroMAD1 is a product of a paradigm shift - I would say. It has all the elements that I always preach – research in priority area; private-public collaboration; long-term vision and continuity; market-driven research; and strong fundamental research. RetroMAD1 would not have been a reality if not for all these elements. What is more heartening is that such high-tech product and quality coming from a private laboratory. BioSatria has clearly understood the need of the market and the growing aquaculture industry and its challenges and has stepped into the right direction. Its innovation will not only be available to the Malaysian market but also globally which will be made possible by INVE’s global market reach. BioSatria is now planning to set up a pilot-manufacturing plant in Peninsula Malaysia to produce this oral vaccine. This is certainly a new dawn for the Malaysian biotechnology sector. BioSatria will have its share of contribution towards achieving our national biotechnology agenda in terms of creating more jobs for aspiring biotechnologists and increasing the percentage of GDP from the biotech sector. 

Thumbs up to BioSatria and hope its success, innovation and spirit will be emulated by other biotechnology companies. 

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan