Johor Biomedical Forum 2017 : A Bright Future Ahead

By: Benedict Weerasena

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“In today’s global economic setting, a bio-based economy is a growth engine with a promising future. A technology-focused industry, bioeconomy offers technological solutions for many of the health and resource-based problems faced in the world.”

– Dato’ Mohamed Khaled bin Nordin, Chief Minister of Johor
 

The promising future and vast opportunities of Johor’s biomedical sector is amplified through the following statistics: Malaysian healthcare expenditure could rise as high as USD20 billion by 2020 due to the higher incidences of chronic diseases and growing healthcare costs, according to Frost & Sullivan’s projections. The Asia Pacific Healthcare market, at a market size of close to USD500 billion represents 30% of global revenues. With a projected growth rate of 8% for 2017 which is higher than the global rate of 4.8%, the Asia Pacific healthcare market is still one of the fastest growing regions globally. With such bright opportunities to tap into a rapidly growing market, it is no wonder that the state government of Johor through J-Biotech is heavily investing into the biomedical sector.

On the 17th of May 2017, the inaugural Biomedical Forum 2017 was held at the Auditorium X-Sentral in the newly built Bio-XCell Malaysia at Iskandar Puteri. With the goal of tipping the development of biomedical sector in Johor, this forum successfully highlighted the issues and challenges faced by the Johorean biomedical sector. In addition, the presenters and forum participants also shared several solutions and potential for collaboration which will propel this very promising sector to greater heights. Bait Al-Amanah was privileged to be invited to this forum, with Zila Fawzi, our analyst participating as the Moderator of the forum.

One pertinent issue highlighted by Dr. Sun Kyung, CEO of KBIO Health is the hurdles which prevent a smooth value chain in South Korea, from the research and development (R&D) subsector, prototype stage, commercialization stage and finally the market. The gap in between the prototype and commercialization stage is the most difficult to cross, in which Dr Sun termed as the Valley of Death. One possible solution to this is the use of clustering to help remove those borders as seen in Singapore’s Biopolis. In terms of applying the same model in the Johorean context, we must be careful to examine the fundamental differences including population, number of researchers, technological advancement to ensure a sustainable adaptation.

Secondly, another issue is the slow and sometimes stagnant results of biomedical research although substantial funding from taxpayers money has been pumped in in South Korea. This is a timely reminder for the stakeholders of Johor’s biomedical sector to not look back once they have put their hands and funds to the plow, to persevere through the many years of investing in research, knowing that it will bear fruit one day. However, our Korean counterparts reminded us that we as Johoreans will embark on an easier journey with their sure and steady guidance.

Besides that, En. Mohamed Fadzlifrom Biomedical Engineering Association Malaysia (BEAM) also accurately pointed out that the biomedical research industry of Malaysia faces a lot of red tape and bureaucracy which inhibits creativity. One possible solution is establishing a one-stop centre to cater to the entire biomedical industry which will ensure greater efficiency through integration. On that point, this forum has certainly forged a way forward for the various stakeholders to network and integrate with one another, which will hopefully lead to the fruition of a one-stop centre in the near future.

One highly crucial action step repetitively highlighted by both the Korean and Malaysian forum panelists was the need for collaboration on many levels of the industry. First and foremost, the Korean experts encouraged a greater form of collaboration between the biomedical sectors of both countries, to ensure a greater value added in the value chain. On this point, Mr Samuel Lee from Wen Ken Group, an industry player reminded everyone of the importance of welcoming foreign experts to nurture our young biomedical industry and to help us grow together. It is true that we must be willing to accept foreign competition as a way to grow in a sustainable and matured manner.

In a play of words, Dr. Sun had everyone smiling in agreement when he talked about a global marketing strategy of Malaysia’s Halal Biomedical industry together with Korea’s Hallyu Cultural wave. He then proposed a name for the collaboration – HAL-Project which represents both global-reaching industries and functions interestingly as an acronym for ‘Happiness for All our Lives’. During the Q&A session, the audiences especially the lecturers and students from UTM were delighted to hear that Malaysians were welcome to collaborate either through research stints or internships at the KBio Health New Drug Development Center in Osong, South Korea.

Besides that, several forum panelists also emphasized the need for collaboration between the State and Federal-level biomedical agencies for better integration of efforts and knowledge-sharing. Another level of collaboration includes a stronger relationship between academia in Johor, represented by UTM, UTHM and MARA College with the industry players. This collaboration entails a two-prong approach: First, academic biomedical research should be done with industrial commercialization in sight and second, biomedical curriculum should be up-to-date and institutions are able to produce marketable graduates ready to contribute to the development of the industry.

One final example of collaboration is encouraging biomedical students and researchers to engage with medical doctors at the hospitals. This interesting approach will enable the former to see the needs and missing gaps of the medical industry, and then can work towards fulfilling those demands through new biomedical products and services which will certainly benefit the healthcare industry in the long run. It is indeed a great season for Johor’s biomedical sector to become a technology-focused industry, offering technological solutions for many of the health and resource-based problems faced in Johor, Malaysia and the world.

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