YBhg Dato’ Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal, CEO
If you happen to be in South San Francisco and drive along the road called DNA Way, you will never escape the sight of a prominent campus facility that belongs to a company called Genentech Inc. The story of how Genentech was founded is an inspiring illustration of how a partnership in innovation has advanced a new era of technological change and created a new multi-billion dollars industry. Founded in 1976 by Bob Swanson, a venture capitalist and Dr. Herbert Boyer, a biochemist at the University of California in San Francisco, Genentech is hailed to be the first biotech company in the world. Swanson was looking for research that could be brought to the market at Bay Area but his attempt was futile when no scientists were ready for commercialisation. Swanson came across Boyer’s patent on the recombinant DNA technology, and placed a call to Boyer for a meeting. Their 10-minute meeting on the fateful late Friday afternoon turned into a 3-hour discussion; the meeting concluded with the birth of Genentech, and the rest is history. Together they obtained the license on the technology and generated more than US250 million in royalties over 20 years for the two universities – The Stanford University and the University of California San Francisco. Today, the company has more than 30 medicines on the market, generating over US14 billion a year.
This is the best part of the story – both sides win.
The commercialisation of biotechnology products will meet several challenges such as sufficient funding, market positioning, regulatory requirement, intellectual property rights management, resources availability and technical expertise. Many of these challenges do not fall neatly into either the public or private sectors; instead, they require joint efforts from all sectors. To address this, an innovative and synergistic public-private partnership (PPP) is crucial for undertaking initiatives faced with such profound challenges.
Last month, BiotechCorp organised the S2A for Bioeconomy Seminar 2014 as part of its efforts to create a platform to facilitate interaction and engagement between multiple stakeholders in the public and private sectors. The seminar featured, among others, sharing of experience by The University of California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) and Larta Institute, two prominent organisations that are vital in advocating PPP in life sciences and biotechnology industry.
QB3 has an innovative collaborative model to drive commercial-based research and innovation by providing mentorships, professional development, funding and partnership to empower entrepreneurial scientists. BiotechCorp has forged a good working relationship with QB3 over the years where a number of Malaysians pursued their post-doctoral training and established start-up companies under the Biotechnology Entrepreneur Programme.
The Larta Institute’s network-centric approach to address entrepreneurs’ technology, market and business hurdles is another model worth our attention. It brings together government and support organisations with entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, research institutions and industry to ensure successful transformation of innovation into commercialisation. To date, Larta Institute has successfully transformed more than 3,500 innovations into commercially successful enterprises.
It is important to maximise the value and impact of public-private sector engagement to accelerate the transition of the National Biotechnology Policy from Phase 2: Science to Business to the next phase of Going Global. In doing so, Bio-entrepreneurship Programme will be one of the key elements in the Bioeconomy Accelerator Programmes (Bio-Accelerators). The programme will act as a support framework to develop global-centric bio-entrepreneurs.
The Ministry of Education also plays an important role in the development of high impact scientific research, in line with the objectives of the National Higher Education Strategic Plan which will provide the technological leap for local biotech companies to move up the value chain.
The progress we are making on these strategic imperatives is highly encouraging. Thus far, there have been several ongoing collaborations between BioNexus companies with institutions of higher learning and research institutes to translate innovation into products. Some examples include:
- Diploid oysters between USM and Seaharvest Sdn Bhd
- Commercially viable solid state cultivation of Tiger Milk mushroom between FRIM and Ligno Biotech Sdn Bhd
- Bacteriophages production as bio-pesticides for the control of crop diseases between MARDI and UPM with All Cosmos Industries Sdn Bhd
- GranuMasTM – a locally invented biomaterial made from limestone to be used as bone graft substitute in various surgeries. GranuLab Sdn Bhd is collaborating with SIRIM, UKM, IIUM and Nuclear Malaysia.
These are just some of the success stories of product commercialisation with participation from the local universities and agencies. I am very optimistic that pockets of innovation are steadily emerging from our local universities, finding its way to the market. The challenge is to create a platform which provides the right linkages and channels to accelerate commercialisation of the technology. In order to create a successful partnership, we need to start with the end in mind and then figure out the right partner and the best strategy to produce the desired outcome, as illustrated in the Swanson-Boyer collaboration.
There is also a need to create and maintain the infrastructure to sustain and achieve more value for money out of partnerships. Innovation and flexibility must continue to be hallmarks of the PPP model for it to continue to maximise its value. The central objective is to capitalise on the strengths and advantages of one another and to optimise the use of resources for the collective and broad impact we are seeking. Partnership is key to propel the Malaysian biotechnology industry to greater heights, and if done effectively and efficiently, the success of San Francisco as a biotech hub could be replicated here in Malaysia, if not more successful.
Join us on this exciting journey!