Selangor sees big future in biotechnology

From left: Chief executive officer of Invest Selangor Hasan Azhari Idris, Selangor exco Teng Chang Khim, Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali and chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council Malaysia chapter Mohd Munir Abdul Majid.

SHAH ALAM: For Invest Selangor CEO Hasan Azhari Idris, the old saying “Good things come in small packages” holds true for the move to develop the life sciences industry, particularly biotechnology, in the state.

Speaking to FMT, Hasan underscored the importance of biotechnology in everyday life in areas such as healthcare and agriculture.

He said biotechnology, which is essentially the use of “tiny” organisms to develop products for various applications, is “the future”, and that Selangor aimed to have a strong foothold in the industry.

“For Invest Selangor, our mission goes beyond bringing in investors to the state and developing existing economic sectors.

“We also need to lay the foundations for the future, and biotechnology is an important aspect of the future, not only in Malaysia, but around the world.”

Hasan said Selangor, which benefits from a strategic location, well-developed infrastructure and a huge talent pool, was primed to develop the biotechnology sector.

In fact, he said, Selangor was already home to 35% of the companies in Malaysia which have been awarded BioNexus status.

Under the federal government’s National Biotechnology Policy, the BioNexus status is awarded to qualified international and local biotechnology companies.

Companies which have been awarded BioNexus status are given fiscal incentives, grants, various guarantees and privileges to help them grow.

Hasan said the majority of BioNexus-status companies in Selangor are in the agriculture sector, while nearly a third are in the healthcare sector. The remainder are industrial-based.

“Currently, the life sciences sector, which biotechnology is a part of, is still relatively small compared to other sectors in the state, but we are expecting continued and sustainable growth for this sector.

“As I mentioned, our talent pool, which is boosted by the presence of numerous public and private institutions of higher learning in the state, coupled with our strong manufacturing capabilities, make the state a suitable base for the healthcare industry.”

Hasan said to chart and promote the growth of the state, the state government had set up the Selangor Bio Council, which comprises highly experienced experts and industry professionals who will act as advisors, especially for the development of the Selangor Bio Bay (SBB).

Inspired by the world famous San Francisco Bio Bay, the SBB, which has a gross development value of RM4 billion, is a bio valley that spans over 1,000 acres of land in Pulau Indah.

The SBB is set to be a centre for research institutes, laboratories and biotech-related manufacturing activities. The first phase of SBB is set to open this month.

“Essentially, the SBB provides biotechnology companies with a great environment for them to thrive and at the same time, get the support they need from the state government and our experts from the Selangor Bio Council,” Hasan said.

He said the “crown jewel” of the SBB would be the Biotech Accelerator Centre, which will serve as a research and development hub for companies operating in the SBB.

Hasan said the SBB was only the beginning for Selangor’s biotechnology sector, and that Invest Selangor would continue to develop the sector to create more opportunities for the people and draw more investments for the state.

The SBB is vital not only for Selangor, but for Malaysia’s biotechnology ambitions as well.

Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre executive director Mahaletchumy Arujanan said the SBB would complement existing economic corridors in the country.

“Done the right way, it should provide job opportunities and contribute to Malaysia’s gross domestic product.

“But we need to understand that this requires stamina and perseverance as the biotechnology business doesn’t yield profits overnight.”

Mahaletchumy said while it was good that the SBB was inspired by the San Francisco Bio Bay, it required a lot of government support given that the investor pool in Malaysia isn’t as big as San Francisco’s.

She also said research activities in universities need to be ramped up to attract foreign talent, adding that it was crucial that the Selangor government worked closely with and supported the universities to this end.

“The SBB should have a good pool of investors, university research centres, startups and SMEs, as well as multinational companies.”

The ongoing Selangor International Business Summit (SIBS 2017) will play a vital role in showcasing Selangor’s biotechnology ambitions on a global platform.