Biocon India’s chairman bullish on Malaysia’s biotech prospects
By Karamjit Singh December 6, 2012
- Country has almost all the pieces in place to be a successful hub
- Expects to see more biotech companies locate here over next 5 years
BIOCON Ltd founder and chairman Kiran Mazumdar-Shah (pic, right), has a formidable presence about her. The deep and commanding voice adds to this. And she is certainly making sure that Malaysia's biotechnology ambitions command global attention with her RM500-million (US$164-million) state-of-the-art bio pharma manufacturing facility.
Phase 1 will be completed by 2014 and will cost RM250 million.
Aside from manufacturing, the 40-acre facility will also conduct research. Biocon is regarded as India’s premier biotechnology company and was established by Kiran in 1978.
The stakes are high because the skeptics are many. As a result, she is demanding flawless execution.
“We must showcase to the world what Malaysia is capable of and what Indian investment can do,” she says.
The facility she is building in Iskandar Malaysia's Bio-XCell Park will be the largest integrated insulin production plant in Asia, and she wants to show the world what India and Malaysia can do together.
“There is a lot of credibility at stake because there are a lot of skeptics who keep telling me that maybe I have made a mistake. But I tell them that I have been bold enough to take this decision, and that maybe they will follow me. In fact, I am sure others will follow me,” she asserts.
If she sounds like a friend of Malaysia, she is. Kiran gave the keynote lecture at this May's BIO conference in the United States, and spoke about the state of biotech in Malaysia and why companies should look seriously into investing here. She is even trying to convince a former head of R&D at Biocon, who has started a seaweed-based renewable energy project, to seriously consider setting up his proof of concept plant in Malaysia.
“I told him Malaysia is helping in a big way and has done an amazing job in terms of enabling policies. Many companies will start looking to Malaysia and do not be surprised if in the next five years you witness a bigger presence of biotech companies here,” she says.
And to think that she started out skeptical about Malaysia's grand ambitions of being a biotech player. As part of the biotech International Advisory Panel, she gave policy makers a whole set of suggestions and action plans they needed to implement.
Her basis was to look at what Singapore was doing and challenging the Malaysian authorities to do more. “I did not think they would do it but to my pleasant surprise, they came back to me having done everything I suggested!”
Kiran then realized she had to put her money where her mouth was, and thus was the seed for her RM500-million facility planted, back in 2010.
Despite her bullishness however, she identifies the lack of high-end talent as being the biggest missing component that could derail Malaysia’s biotech push. “All the other ingredients of success are there, but you need sufficient quantities of engineering, scientific and technical talent to realize your biotech ambitions.”
It is not so simple to blame academia for the lack of talent in the biotech-related industries. Kiran notes that without the pull from industry, people won’t come into those sectors, so opportunities need to be created first.
“It is a Catch-22,” she acknowledges, but points to her upcoming facility as a catalyst to kick-start and give momentum to the push to attract more talent into biotech-related fields.
Biocon is also playing its part in developing this talent pipeline. In September, Biocon Sdn Bhd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Biocon Ltd India, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Manipal Education Malaysia (MEM) to collaborate to develop human capital for the biotechnology industry.
The MoU outlines the creation of an internship program and graduate employment program for the admission of Manipal International University (MIU) students and graduates to Biocon's Malaysia facility for training and employment.
It should be noted that the managing director of MEM is Datuk Iskandar Mizal Mahmood (pic above, left), the former CEO of BiotechCorp Malaysia.
Kiran acknowledges the crucial role Iskandar played in getting her to invest in Malaysia. At the MoU signing, Kiran joked that Iskandar had to get into the education sector because he guaranteed her that all of Biocon’s needs in Malaysia would be met. Biocon will need over 1,000 highly skilled talents at its Iskandar facility.
MEM’s flagship project is the Manipal International University. Its interim campus is in Kelana Jaya in the state of Selangor, whilst its 140-acre campus, costing over RM650 million (US$214 million), is being developed in Nilai in the state of Negeri Sembilan. The Nilai campus will be operational by January, 2013.
Bio-XCell taking shape in Iskandar