Updated on 5 February 2013
The setting up of the NSTDA marked the beginning of serious support to the research and development efforts in leading areas of science and technology in Thailand. "Prior to this, we had already established national centers for such areas under the Ministry of Science, and the USAID helped in forming research support programs. These activities came together in the establishment of NSTDA by law, which I helped to draft," says Prof Yuthavong, talking about how the NSTDA came into being. "The NSTDA is a semi-autonomous organization radically different from civil service agencies that were the usual models until then. It determines its own research policies."
He adds that the agency managed to draw a good crop of researchers due to its "substantially higher salaries". Many of them were given scholarships to study overseas.
Prof Yuthavong remained at the helm of the NSTDA till 1998 after which he returned to National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Biotec) as a researcher. Associated with the institution since its inception, he headed it as the director from 1985 to 1989. Presently, he heads the research group at Biotec that is working on the development of new anti-malarial drug candidates.
Biotec, set up in 1983, aimed to support and transfer technology for the development of industry, agriculture, natural resources and environment. It was brought under the NSTDA after the latter was established in 1991, and with time Biotec has transformed itself from a funding agency into a research institution.
Formation of Biotec, according to him, was triggered by another event where Thailand failed to become the UN-chosen International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in 1982. The setting up of the ICGEB was a proposal of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. "We and twenty other countries put up the proposals, and the selected committee, chaired by Prof David McConnell of Trinity College Dublin, went around to inspect the sites. The committee recommended that Thailand (and another site in Belgium) be chosen. However, in the final selection, politics came in and India and Italy were chosen instead," he recollects, adding that this convinced them that Thailand had potentials in biotechnology "and the Ministry of Science put in major efforts to promote the technology, especially in its application in agriculture, health and industry".