Biotechnology in Malaysia
Malaysia aspires to be a biotechnology hub and this is clearly spelled out in the National Biotechnology Policy that was launched on the 28th April 2005. It is estimated that by 2020, this sector would create 280,000 jobs and contribute five per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Total investment under the National Biotechnology Policy is expected to be around RM30 billion (US$7.9 billion). Whereas, a total of RM2.1 billion has been allocated for biotechnology in the Ninth Malaysia Plan. Out of this, an initial RM300 million has been allocated to Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation to initiate commercialization, technology acquisition, entrepreneur development and for the development of intellectual property framework.
To streamline biotechnology research, seven Biotechnology Cooperative Centres (BCCs) have been established. The BCCs help to coordinate biotech research in the various research organizations to improve cooperation and reduce duplication.
The seven BCCs are listed here:
- Molecular Biology Cooperative Centre University Malaya (UM) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)
- Plant Biotechnology Cooperative Centre Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
- Animal Biotechnology Cooperative Centre Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)
- Medical Biotechnology Cooperative Centre Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and Institute of Medical Research (IMR)
- Environmental/Industrial Biotechnology SIRIM
- Cooperative Centre
- Biopharmacy Cooperative Centre Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)
- Food Biotechnology Cooperative Centre Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI)
Presently, there are some biotechnology-related industries in Malaysia, but most are using what can be classified as conventional biotechnology processes. Since, Malaysia is largely an agricultural-based country, it is not surprising that agricultural and food biotechnology have received greater emphasis. Agricultural biotechnology is envisaged to be a potential tool to ensure food security for the country. It is also a vehicle for wealth creation. Tissue culture of several industrial crops (oil palm, rubber, rattan, forest trees), together with food crops (rice, banana, sago, herbs and medicinal plants) and ornamentals (orchids, pitcher plants) has been successfully carried out for sometime. There are a number of ongoing research on genetically modified plants. All of them are at experimental stage.
Food biotechnology, in general, is relatively new in Malaysia, although food and food ingredients produced by traditional biotechnology like fermentation technology have brought to market products like soy sauce, yogurt, nata, tempeh, tapai and budu. Food biotechnology has also produced high quality clarified fruit juices. A number of industries producing sweeteners and food additives based on fermentation have been in existence for decades in this country.
Several animal recombinant vaccines have been produced to assist the development of animal husbandry. Marker assisted breeding strategies are also being practiced to increase the efficiency of livestock breeding programs. In the industrial front, the application of bioremediation techniques in the treatment of industrial and agricultural wastes has found widespread acceptance. New developments in industrial biotechnology in Malaysia encompass activities such as optimization and enhancement of new treatment systems through bio-augmentation or genetic engineering. There are also a number companies with special focus in bioinformatics.
Research in medical biotechnology has generated several diagnostics kits for dengue and other infectious tropical diseases. Although, R&D activities in biopharmacy are relatively new in this country, a bioenhanced formulation of the anti-malarial drug artermisinin, with increased efficacy has been produced.