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7-Business: Thai biotech proponents demand bigger investments



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TITLE:  BIOTECHNOLOGY: 'Agencies lack coordination'
SOURCE: The Nation, Thailand
        http://www.nationmultimedia.com/page.arcview.php3?clid=6&id=
        71837&usrsess=1
DATE:   Jan 6, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


BIOTECHNOLOGY: 'Agencies lack coordination'

No way out of lagging technological standards, facilities and human 
resources unless office talks unto office, say firms

Biotechnology is providing a new challenge for Thai business as the 
commercial sector seeks more support from the government to help local 
firms commercialise their products, according to a panel discussion on 
"Challenges and Opportunity for Biotechnology Business" sponsored by the 
Nation Multimedia Group last week.

More than 90 people were on hand to hear panel members call biotechnology a 
key technology trend and to affirm that the Thai government agreed that it' 
was one of three technology sectors essential to the country's development, 
along with information and communication and nanotechnology.

Like the computer-software business, biotechnology gives entrepreneurs high 
value on their investments, they said, and any investment there depends on 
intellectual property rights rather than material assets.

To boost biotechnology development, more government support is needed to 
stimulate local researchers as well as business entrepreneurs to jump into 
this area, one panellist said.

Currently, local businesses involved in biotechnology lag in technological 
standards, facilities and human resources, as well as funding, curbing 
business opportunities.

"We can't find the funding to set up a laboratory to test our bio-
fertiliser product," said panellist Pongsak Nantawannakul, general manager 
of local biotechnology-related business Agri Nature, "but the problem is 
not about funding that much - it's more about product standards: the 
funding sources [we've talked to] say there is a poor standard."

Agri Nature produces bio-fertiliser using local wisdom, and the company is 
trying to set up its own lab for further research.

To get a loan to build the lab, Pongsak has to meet official government 
standards. He said he had contacted every Thai government organisation 
responsible for product-testing and certification but failed to obtain the 
necessary information and services because each passed the request on to 
another.

"We don't know what to do next, because these government agencies don't 
cooperate with one another;" he said. "This stalls our product development. 
More importantly, the country has not yet set a standard for our product, 
so we also don't know how to produce our bio-fertiliser to meet a given 
standard."

Pongsak said the government should set the standard and provide a single 
contact point for firms wishing to conduct biotechnology-related business.

"Unless the government's system changes, it will discourage entrepreneurs 
from continuing in this sector," he added.

National Centre for Genetics and Biotechnology (Biotec) director Morakot 
Tanticharoen acknowledged that an agency was needed to assist such 
companies, not only in terms of technology transfer, research and 
development, but also consulting.

She said Biotec would assume this role to help firms access the 30 to 40 
related government facilities. Thailand has more than 400 biotechnology 
researchers conducting 100 projects, and at least 150 companies in 
biotechnology businesses.

Yongyuth Yuthawong, president of the Thai Academy of Science and Technology 
Foundation, said biotechnology was crucial to the country's efforts to once 
again achieve a sustainable economy.

He underscored the need for traditional biotechnology in improving the 
quality of rural products, such alcohol, farm animals and fruit, all of 
which would boost the country's export revenues, and pointed out that many 
small and medium-sized factories should be able to reuse their waste water 
to conserve energy costs and help the environment.

More hi-tech development, he said, involves genetic technology. Although 
Thailand is not yet ready to play a global role in such areas stem-cell 
research, it has potential at a lower level, like developing an 
international DNA database.

"In the near future, there will be new business opportunities to enhance 
biotechnology, such as genetic testing services that could lead to 
[preventing] disease," said Yongyuth.

Professor Sirirurg Songsivilai, director of the Cellular and Molecular 
Immunology at the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, said the 
development of the Kingdom's biotechnology industry could alone trim 
Thailand's medicine imports by 95 per cent.

Each year, he said, the nation imports preventive and treatment medicine 
worth Bt1 billion and Bt40 billion respectively, excluding Bt2 billion 
worth of diagnostic kits. That money could be saved, he added, if the 
government and related technology-development agencies supported one 
another and transferred technology to the business sector so all could 
jointly improve product quality.

Because biotechnology involves so many areas, the panellists called on the 
government to clearly define specific areas of the science in which it 
believed the country could compete globally.

--------------------------------

Funding biotech

For those who want to begin a biotechnology-related business there is a new 
source of funding.

One Asset Management Ltd, the government's venture capital fund for SMEs, 
is now providing funding support to SMEs to start up and further expand 
their business.

With a total fund of Bt800 million, the agency aims to encourage more and 
more SMEs, especially those in the biotech sector, to submit business plans 
for capital funding support, said its president Wiwan Tharahirunchote.

The agency is adjusting some of its rules to make it easier for small 
players to get funding, Wiwan said.

It will extend its support timeframe for biotech business developers to 
seven to 10 years from the three to five it initially offered.

To make it is easier for the agency to decide which companies it should 
support, Wiwan has called for the establishment of a government unit to 
certify each company.

So far just one biotech-related company has won support from the agency, 
she said.



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