SOME RM3 billion of biotechnology investments are expected to flow into Malaysia over the next three to five years as a result of four agreements inked at the Bio International Convention (BIO) on Tuesday.
The most notable is a planned RM1.65 billion investment by US-based biochemical firm Gevo Inc to build the world's first commercial plant producing bio-isobutanol from biomass at the Kertih BioPolymer Park in Terengganu.
Bio-isobutanol is a versatile platform chemical that can be converted to products such as solvents and coatings, bioplastics and biofuels.
The plant by Gevo, which is also the world's biggest bio-isobutanol producer, will be constructed in phases on a 40ha site. It is slated for full operation by 2015.
Gevo exchanged documents with the three parties responsible for developing the 1,000ha park - the Terengganu state government, Malaysian Biotechnology Corp Bhd (BiotechCorp) and the East Coast Economic Region Development Council - on the second day of BIO, which kicked off this week.
Meanwhile, Chemical Company of Malaysia Bhd's unit, Duopharma Sdn Bhd, signed an agreement with Korea's PanGen Biotech Inc to pioneer a clinical trial of erythropoietin (EPO) in Malaysia. EPO is used to treat end-stage renal-failure patients by boosting their red-blood cells.
Under the agreement, Duopharma will obtain commercialisation rights for product marketing and distribution in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.
The clinical trial will cost some RM2 million and should be completed by November next year, after which Duopharma hopes to go commercial with it, director Leonard Ariff Abd Shatar said.
Two other Malaysian firms, KENS FineMedTech Sdn Bhd and BioNexus-status GranuLab (M) Sdn Bhd, also struck separate deals to collaborate with US-based Electrocore LLC, a developer of new the-rapies using electrical stimulation to treat ailments like asthma.
The agreements are expected to result in GranuLab setting up a research and development (R&D) facility in Malaysia and KENS establishing a special-purpose company to undertake global manufacturing operations and spearhead further R&D and market distribution in Asia Pacific.
All four agreements were facilitated by BiotechCorp, which is the key agency responsible for developing Malaysia's biotechnology sector.
Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Maximus Ongkili, who witnessed the agreements after launching the Malaysian Pavilion at BIO Boston, said he expected these efforts to bring in about RM3 billion into Malaysia "over the next three to five years".
He said he hoped to formalise US-based Fortune 500 company Darden Restaurant Inc's plan to invest some RM1 billion in the world's first lobster hatchery in Sabah, "soon".
BiotechCorp has already granted BioNexus status to two of Darden's entities that will be involved in the project, namely Darden Aquasciences Sdn Bhd and Lobster Aqua Technologies Sdn Bhd. This means they will get special incentives like tax breaks.
Malaysia has been keen to boost investments in the budding biotechnology sector as it aims for it to account for five per cent of the country's gross domestic product by end-2020 from 2.2 per cent last year.