Tap biotech's potential

LETTERS: Our economy has long depended on oil and gas, oil palm, rubber, manufacturing of industrial products, including semiconductors, and the growing services sector.

Oil and gas are a depleting resources and oil palm has reached its land limit of six million ha.

Any future increase in output can only come from yield improvement, which is a major challenge. Natural rubber has been in decline for several years as prices stay low.

Digital is, of course, the excitement now, as businesses venture to stay competitive, and countries scramble to expand their economic base. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has been hailed as offering the magic potion.

Many seem to forget that biotechnology also offers much economic potential. A combination of digital and biotechnology offers even more.

We saw during the pandemic how biotechnology proved helpful in vaccine development and use.

Though there was initial scepticism, this soon died out as their efficacies were confirmed.

Few can deny how biotechnology has positively influenced world food production and safety.

Scientists have proclaimed the critical role of biotechnology in the production of future proteins for the world.

Insect-based proteins, such as those derived from black soldier flies, are on the brink of commercialisation. Proteins from microalgae are also on a similar path. Both are possible because of biotechnology.

We salute the government for coming up with the Biotechnology Policy 2.0 (2022-2030) to tap the new economic opportunities offered by biotechnology.

Targets include making the biotechnology industry account for five per cent of gross domestic product by 2030.

The policy recognises the critical role of R&D and talent in spearheading growth. We are fortunate that the country has in place vibrant biotechnology research institutions.

The National Institutes of Biotechnology Malaysia (NIBM) comprising the Agri-Biotechnology Institute (ABI), Malaysian Genome and Vaccine Institute (MGVI) and Malaysian Institute of Pharmaceutical and Nutraceuticals (Ipharm), have over the years developed the capability to support the nation's biotechnology agenda.

During the pandemic, MGVI was on a par with its international peers.

ABI has made impressive inroads in their research on herbs, tissue culture, vertical farming, and the new insect-derived proteins. Ipharm in Penang has expertise in the efficacy of local herbs.

It may be time for the government to streamline biotechnology research and development in the country in view of the economic potential.

NIBM is well placed to lead in a biotechnology research alliance which brings together the institutes under the ambit of the nation's universities, as well as private R&D institutes to drive biotechnology in the country.

The alliance will foster better collaboration between industry and researchers, strengthening our chances of realising a vibrant and globally competitive biotechnology economy.

The National Biotechnology Policy 2.0 will guide the expansion of the lucrative biotechnology business for the country as well as fostering international collaboration.

NIBM in the lead will provide global credibility in attracting foreign investment in the sector.

We have no choice but to look at new economic opportunities. Failure to invest in new business can be retrogressive for the economy.


Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy,

UCSI University

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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