Bio-XCell taking shape in Iskandar
By Karamjit Singh August 29, 2012
- Big boost from having India’s leading biotech company Biocon as anchor tenant
- Human capital needs are an immediate priority for any investor
WITH great power comes great responsibility. For Rizatuddin Ramli (pic), the boyish-faced chief executive officer of Malaysian Bio-XCell Sdn Bhd, one can say, with great investment, comes great expectations.
With the anchor customer of the biotech park that he is tasked to grow, being Biocon, India’s largest biotech company, helmed by the redoubtable Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Ritz, as he is popularly called, has a heavy weight in his slim shoulders.
Already, I was told three weeks ago, during a visit to Bio-XCell, that Kiran is pushing for her facility, located in Iskandar Malaysia, to be ready before its official opening date of April next year. Now, that’s pressure.
Iskandar Malaysia was established by the Malaysian Government in 2006 as part of a plan to transform the economy in southern Malaysia.
Indeed the 2011 Economic Transformation Programme Annual Report contains a quote from Kiran which hints at her expectations, which she will expect Bio-XCell to deliver. “We are establishing the RM1.972 billion (US$632 million) biopharmaceutical manufacturing and development facility which will stimulate growth for the biotech sector in Malaysia and provide commercial opportunities for small and medium enterprises.
“As this is the first recombinant biopharmaceutical plant in Malaysia, a key component would be to focus on developing human capital to support high technology operations.”
What Kiran is saying is she needs competent people and fast. It will defeat the purpose of her making a big bet on Bio-XCell and Malaysia if she has to bring in talent from India.
According to the Bio-XCell website, public and private universities in Malaysia produce 16,000 graduates in Life and Applied Sciences annually. [Interestingly, during a recent interview with the Malaysian Biotechnology Corporation (Biotech Corp), I was told that the number of science students that graduate yearly was 6,300. Apparently BiotechCorp uses a more specific definition than Bio-XCell].
Both parties however work very closely together and have their office in the same building in KL. In fact, the Bio-XCell project is being jointly developed by Biotech Corp and UEM Land Holdings Bhd.
Bio-XCell leverages on the human capital development programs organized by Biotech Corp such as the BeST (Biotechnology Special Training) Program, Biotechnology Technical Development Program and the LARTA Institute Bridging Program.
The BeST program has seen 1,123 graduates in biotechnology and life sciences come through since 2007. The program is on-going through various collaborations with universities.
There are also various awareness programs organised by Biotech Corp through inter-varsity Biotechnology National Debate Competitions and various career talks at universities and secondary schools throughout the country.
All these are designed to eventually help deepen the talent pool that the likes of investors such as Kiran are thirsting for when they make their billion-ringgit bets on Malaysia and its biotech efforts.
My visit three weeks ago (pic) to Bio-XCell was at the invite of Ritz to check out the latest progress of the custom-built biotechnology park in Iskandar Malaysia. I also witnessed Ritz making a presentation to a small group of interested parties on the value proposition of Bio-XCell, including the easy availability of oil palm biomass.
There was a Taiwanese who already has a business based in Malaysia and a few people from Singapore and some Malaysians. They all seemed impressed with the progress of the area and with the fact that Biocon had made a big commitment.
The key areas that Bio-XCell is focusing on are industrial and health care biotechnology manufacturing, and R&D. Bio-XCell itself is a one-stop agency that aims to promote the development of a supportive biotechnology ecosystem around strategic anchor tenants.
For instance, one of the services Ritz was promoting was the Standard Shell Scheme which essentially provides tenants with a readily available plant in a standardized layout.
“This basically allows tenants the flexibility to move right in and renovate or fit-out the space according to their operational needs,” he said.
The Standard Shell Scheme comes with a built-up area of around 20,000 sq ft , approval to build an extra mezzanine floor for extra space which the tenant will bear themselves and a minimum tenancy period of three years. Enough time for their main plant to be built at Bio-XCell.
At the same time, one interesting value-add is the availability of technology platforms from three companies that BiotechCorp had acquired/ licensed from over the years which tenants at Bio-XCell will enjoy at nominal cost:
- Manufacturing of Nanoparticles, provided by French company Nanobiotix SA;
- Microarray, provided by Australian company Medsaic Pty Ltd; and
- Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE) and Particle Formation, developed by FeyeCon Development and Implementation BV from the Netherlands.
So, will Bio-XCell succeed? At this early stage it seems to be doing and saying all the right things. In Ritz, Bio-XCell has a CEO who had a previous stint at Multimedia Development Corporation, another one-stop agency tasked with growing a new tech-based ecosystem in Malaysia.
Ritz would have picked up invaluable experience on what works and does not and be able to shorten the learning curve of Bio-XCell in serving its customers and in winning new ones.
And, I believe Madam Kiran of Biocon will be quick to let him know when she is not happy with something. And, that’s a good thing for Ritz.
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