Updated on 21 December 2012
"The partnership benefits from the BIOTEC's expertise in the knowledge of microorganisms, ranging from collection, identification, preservation to culturing conditions, and in the isolation and elucidation of pure natural compounds from such microorganisms," explains Dr Kirtikara. Novartis provides its expertise in the discovery, characterization, development and worldwide commercialization of compounds from both synthetic and natural product sources. As a result of this six-year-old partnership, over 7,200 microbe isolates and 115 pre-compounds have been evaluated against a battery of drug targets.
BIOTEC has been the prime organization that has brought new technologies to the country. For example, Dr Kirtikara said, "We realized that genomics field was new and was very important from biotechnology perspective, hence we established the Genome Institute. Our aim is to support Thai biotechnology industry. Normally companies from abroad have their own R&D arms. However, in Thailand, biotech companies are small and might not have enough capabilities. If they want to be competitive, they come to us to explore partnerships and we help them in the best possible way we can."
One of the many success stories for BIOTEC has been the launch of KEEEN in 2010 by Hi-Grimm Environmental and Research, a Thai company that has been supported by NSTDA and BIOTEC. KEEEN is an environmental-friendly bioremediation agent that uses microorganisms to eliminate hydrocarbons, fat, oil, grease and organic substances from contaminated areas. The product is a result of two-year collaborative research project between BIOTEC and Hi-Grimm on selecting oil-degrading bacteria for the commercial bioremediation products. "They had a very innovative idea. They wanted to replace products from abroad by using microbes found in Thailand. We did research with them as a joint research project. The research gave fruitful results. The company now has a consortium of microbes and is now quite successful. They have been winning various awards both local and regional. They themselves will be producers of the product and are now commercializing it."
The country is also on its way to get the first indigenously developed drug. A team led by Professor Yongyuth Yuthavong, who used to be the former minister of science and technology, has come up with a drug for combating malaria. The drug is against the dihydrofolate reductase target in the Plasmodium. The team synthesized a number of compounds out of which the most promising one was P218. The drug has been picked up by Medicine for Malaria Venture (MMV), and is in the process of moving into pre-clinical and clinical trials. "We are quite excited about the malaria drug. The preliminary results from the trials look very good and effective and have shown no toxicity in animals. Professor Yuthavong is probably the first science minister who is actually an active scientist and his team has done really well," said Dr Kiritikara. The NSTDA is talking to MMV for co-investment opportunities for the drug.
BIOTEC also worked with King Mongkut's University of Technology to establish National Biopharmaceutical Facility (NBF), which is the first cGMP pilot plant in Thailand, for producing therapeutic proteins. "We are in the process of equipping the plant. A lot of investment is required here as well. In collaborating with the university, new generations of scientists and engineers will be trained through this new facility and they will be ready for more demand from industry in the future," adds Dr Kiritikara.