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Work at 160-acre biotech park is bearing fruit
Published on: Saturday, August 05, 2017

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau
Eight years ago in 2009, Bioeconomy Development Corporation (or Bioeconomy Corp in short) initiated a joint venture with UEM Sunrise Bhd to develop Bio-XCell Biotechnology Park.

It is a 160-acre park in Iskandar Puteri, Johor, Malaysia’s premier biotechnology park and ecosystem.

Its establishment is an implementation of the National Biotechnology Policy to facilitate the commecialisation of biotechnology.

Today, our work has started to bear good fruits.

Last weekend I was at Bio-XCell to attend the groundbreaking ceremony of one of the park’s tenants – Verdezyne. Verdezyne Sdn Bhd, a United States-based industrial biotechnology company with the BioNexus status, is the first in the world to produce Dodecanedioic Acid (DDDA) using renewable feedstock.

DDDA is a component of many consumer products currently made from petroleum. Here, Verdezyne will be building the world’s first bio-based plant for DDDA production jointly with Sime Darby.

Instead of petroleum, they will be using their proprietary yeast to produce DDDA from crude palm oil and palm byproducts, of which are abundantly available in Malaysia. The key here is that they are producing a high-value green product from a very low-value by-product of palm oil processing, reducing the use of petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

When the plant is completed 12 to 18 months later, it will be producing approximately 6,000 metric tonnes of DDDA annually. This will contribute towards Malaysia to become a bio-based chemical hub in Asia Pacific.

The potential market size for DDDA is valued at USD 590 million by 2023, and according to a recent market study, this figure could reach an astounding MYR 6.3 trillion for its final products such as fibers used for carpets and clothing, and lubricants for the automotive and airlines industry. The global market potential for chemical intermediates will total to about USD 70 billion by 2023.

Under the National Transformation Programme’s Palm Oil and Rubber Key Economic Area, one focus is to “develop high value oleo derivatives and bio-based chemicals”. To encourage more palm oil downstream development in oleo derivatives, food, health-based products and clinical trials, the government has allocated RM 280 mil worth of grants under the current 11th Malaysia Plan. Bio-XCell is one of the many initiatives to help local oil palm companies to invest further downstream rather than just producing crude palm oil, by venturing into oleochemicals and oleo derivatives. This joint-venture project between Sime Darby and Verdezyne is one great success story.

The production of high value oleo-derivative products is expected to contribute RM 5.8 billion of Gross National Income (GNI) to our economy by 2020 with a projected 5,858 jobs. At its full operational capacity, the plant by Verdezyne is expected to generate 80 local employment opportunities.

Besides the groundbreaking ceremony of the plant, I also visited Asia’s largest integrated insulin production plant at the Bio-Xcell park. It is owned by Biocon, India’s largest biotechnology firm and a biopharmaceutical company.

The insulin is our country’s first locally manufactured biosimilar product approved by the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authority.

With an investment of RM 1 billion here thus far, Biocon has created about 500 technical employment opportunities for Malaysians. During my visit to Biocon I had the chance to meet a group of young employees, many whom have just graduated from their respective degrees and have undergone trainings at the Biocon Academy.

They were talents of various academic backgrounds such as biotechnology, chemical engineering and pharmacy from both local and foreign institutions, including from University Sabah Malaysia.

It was encouraging for me to learn that our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) talents are being retained and have found exciting opportunities in biotechnology.

Bio-XCell is attractive to foreign investors such as Verdezyne and Biocon due to its complete ecosystem.

The Government has invested substantially into building the necessary infrastructure in the Bio-XCell park, such as the central utility facility that includes a chilled water plant, a steam generation plant that uses renewable biomass feedstock and a waste water treatment plant.

Investors are also attracted by the tax incentives, progressive bioeconomy policy, access to talents and availability of raw material resources in the country.

We hope that this biotech park would showcase Johor and Malaysia on the world stage, ultimately attracting more bio-based and high technology investments.

Finally, a strong bio-based industry here would create the multiplier effect – by creating jobs and by supporting other peripheral industries. Overall, it contributes to our long term socio-economic growth and therefore, Bioeconomy Corp was rebranded from its former Biotechnology Corp name.

The milestone achieved by Bioeconomy Corp through Bio-XCell in Johor last weekend exemplifies research and development (R&D) outcomes that can be commercially viable. In the case of DDDA production from bio-based materials, it has transformed the oil palm industry.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Successful commercialization of technologies such as the ones by Biocon and Verdezyne is often a long process. I look forward to see more local R&D breakthroughs that could decommoditise and uplift our economy.

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