elb's hovel of thoughts

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Biotechnology: What it takes

(Note: Impromptu and not well researched)

For those of you wondering what the big hoo-haa about biotechnology is, read the news around you. Genetically modified plants. Cloning of animals and possibly humans. Research into the levitation of cells using electrical dipoles to simulate vacuum to enable cells to grow in a proper 3D environment. Separation and purification of biological products to produce (medical) drugs. Cereal technology. And so on.

One of the biggest problems of biotechnology and biochemical engineering in particular, is cost. There is a big need to investigate alternative methods to allow affordable public access to biotechnology solutions. Unfortunately it (research) appears to be a low priority, at least in Malaysia.

I myself would be reading a Masters course along the lines of biotechnology later this year; and I am also considering doing a PhD in biochemical engineering in a couple of years, amongst other things. However, why should I return to Malaysia? Besides some of the troubles highlighted here. Plenty of graduate engineers end up doing sales, or in the case of PhDs, get mostly relegated to lecturing, or get no job because of 'overqualification'.

The mentality has to change. Patronisation and appointments of position without the appropriate qualifications must be shed. Promotions, pay increments and the like are to be done on merit, and not based on whims and fancy and arse licking. People with the suitable qualifications would usually be smart enough to smell a rat easily, therefore not even a stealth patronisation policy is recommended.

The ability to THINK is most crucial. You have to be innovative, and be able to approach the problem from an entirely new angle. Following blindly will not get anywhere. It is also a fast growing multi disciplinary field, and anyone doing it needs to be able to be able to adapt.

The employees should be willing to accept that a sizeable proportion of the employees would most definitely be much more qualified than them. It is after all, an industry that requires a highly qualified and specialized workforce to go far. Better still, the employer (or at least the supervisor/ immediate boss) should hold an equal or higher qualification. This is to help the employees feel more at home and have less resentment at having 'a less qualified person as their boss'. This in effect implies that practically everyone should be suitably qualified. And of course, pay is another issue, I shall not delve into it.

And of course, the appropriate equipment is required. It is unreasonable to expect the research facilities to have a piece of analytical equipment worth over one million ringgit (such as one of the latest purchases of the chemical engineering department of Imperial College) unless they have sufficient capital and can justify a need for it. But the most important thing is that the equipment should be appropriate and actually works for its purpose. No mysterious disappearances of funds should occur either.

But where should the money for all this be gotten from? The government has to recognize and to help out universities by giving research grants. Commercial companies could depend on loans initially along with the manufacture of OEM and generic products to generate sufficient revenue.(unless they have a wealthy investor). Eventually they will obtain sufficient income to be able to pay off their own research costs. Even better is if a bigger company takesover / merges (choose whichever you prefer) with the smaller company. More equity can be injected into the financially tighter subsidary from the parent company.

And so on. I'll stop here I guess.

To sum it up: In my opinion, research needs to be a priority and be given a prominent role, along with competent workers.


The above is a response to Andreas' entry about Malaysia's biotech ambitions, from my perspective.


  • As I wrote in my blog and in Andrea's post as well. As a biotechnologist, the biggest problem Malaysia has is the education system. Without a system to train people to think critically and out of the box...it wouldnt step foot out the door even if you have some money coming in.

    Money isn't really a problem given the right circumstances in the biotech world. Goverments DO fund non-critical university based research yes. However biotech companies draw a lot of startup from investors especially if the plan is sound and the product is good.

    That still requires an experienced and adaptable workforce unlike what Malaysia is pumping out already.

    You can have all the R&D you want. You can have all the money in the world. If you don't have a system that trains people to think on their feet...it's a no no.

    Also, just for a little more information in biotech. we deal with cancer research, human theraputics like insulin production, vaccine development, disease control, tissue engineering for burnt victims and so on so forth. Sometimes you can't believe everything the media says. 

    Posted by Edrei

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wednesday, June 15, 2005 7:33:00 pm  

  • Ed: Well let's just say that I was examining a bit of the bigger picture whereas you were focusing more on the educational aspect. It takes more than a competent workforce, imo.

    As for the other areas of biotech interest, I'm very well aware of the other areas of interest encompassed. But thank you anyway, it lets other visitors who might be unfamiliar have a bigger feel for the subject. 

    Posted by pat

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, June 16, 2005 2:25:00 am  

  • Thanks for keeping the discussion going :) 

    Posted by Andreas

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thursday, June 16, 2005 7:38:00 am  

  • All I can say is the government will repeat the exact mistake they did during the IT hoo-haa . There will be lots of unemployed biotech graduates in years to come .  

    Posted by YungJie

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, June 18, 2005 2:14:00 am  

  • What? I coulda sworn you told me ages ago that you didn't want to do a PhD. ;) 

    Posted by Yuen Li

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Saturday, June 18, 2005 8:55:00 pm  

  • andreas: no problem :)

    yung: if done properly, biotech would be the new E&E engineering.

    yuenli: i'm still considering it, hehe :) 

    Posted by pat

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sunday, June 19, 2005 1:42:00 am  

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