Thailand is gearing up to becoming asia’s biotechnology center
At its simplest, biotechnology is technology based on biology. Biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for more than 6,000 years to make useful food products, such as bread and cheese, and to preserve dairy products.
Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.
Currently, there are more than 250 biotechnology health care products and vaccines available to patients, many for previously untreatable diseases. More than 13.3 million farmers around the world use agricultural biotechnology to increase yields, prevent damage from insects and pests and reduce farming’s impact on the environment.
Global scale, universally significant
Based on its applications, the global biotechnology market is divided into the biopharmaceutical, bioservices, bioagriculture, and bioindustrial segments. The entire market was valued at approximately at THB 11.56 trillion (USD 330.3 billion) in 2015, and is expected to reach THB 14.5 trillion (USD 414.5 billion) by the end of 2017, and upwards of THB 27 trillion (USD 775.2 billion) by 2024, which is at an average annual growth rate well into the double-digits, according to a new research report by Global Market Insights, Inc.
Increasing demand for agricultural and food products due to the growing population is positively impacting the growth of the industry. Factors such as limited availability of agricultural land, water shortages, the low-yielding crops, and pests are encouraging researchers to develop innovative agricultural technologies through extensive R&D activities. According to BCC Research, the global market for agricultural biotechnology is expected to reach THB 1.6 trillion (USD 46.8 billion) by 2019, with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 11%. The biotechnology tools category, the fastest growing segment of the market is growing at a phenomenal 49.9% CAGR.
An increase in government funding and widespread technological advancements has allowed Thailand’s biotechnology industry to experience a high growth rate in recent years. Mr. Rutjawate Taharnklaew, Vice President of Betagro Research & Development Center, said that there are three major segments in this industry in Thailand which have been growing significantly and still have considerable potential for future growth, which are, medical-biotechnology, agriculture-biotechnology, and cosmetic-biotechnology.
Government efforts in gearing Thailand to become Asia’s biotechnology center
The government of Thailand has been aggressively promoting growth and fostering developments in biotechnology, in an effort to transform Thailand into the center of biotechnology in Asia.
The government established the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC) laying a solid foundation for future biotech developments.
The government launched the Biotechnology Development Policy Framework 2012-2021, a collaboration between the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI) and BIOTEC. This multi-billion baht plan aims to promote sustainable growth in the biotechnology industry through research funding, strategy mapping and investment incentives. Under this policy framework, a strong emphasis will be placed on enhancing R&D in the private sector and utilizing the intellectual capital created from the biotech revolution to strengthen the country’s overall competitiveness.
The preferred destination for biotech companies
Biotechnology companies in Thailand enjoy a variety of competitive advantages including intellectual property protections and a robust and technically-equipped workforce. Currently, 24 universities across the country have the combined capacity to supply approximately 7,000 students with a biotechnology background each year.
In Thailand, as it is located in a hot and humid climatic zone, which supports a variety of tropical ecosystems and provides wider niches for organism’s survival. The country is able to support a much larger variety of plant, animal and microbe species. Thailand has approximately 15,000 species of plant which account for approximately 10% of estimated total number of plant species found globally according to European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (OEPP). This is an advantage to the country to be a research hub for this growing biotechnology field.
In addition, well-established infrastructure including various pilot plants in Thailand, such as one at Fermentation Technology Research and Service Center (FTC) located at the Faculty of Agro-Industry of Kasetsart University, which operates at the capacity of 500 liters, a collaboration of both private and public sectors, namely, Betagro, Agricultural Research Development Agency (ARDA) under the Ministry of Agriculture, and Kasetsart University. There are also several more pilot plants located in Mahidol University, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, and Chulalongkorn University at a greater scale of 1,000-3,000 liters capacity. These pilot plants allow companies and even startups to scale up their research before commercializing their innovations. Government and organizational support is also provided through the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), which is home to four national research centers (BIOTEC, MTEC, NANOTEC, and NECTEC) and one technology management center (TMC). NSTDA acts as a bridge between the requirements of academic research and innovation in the industry.
Thailand Science Park (TSP), the first technology and innovation hub of Thailand, serves as a one-stop service center to assist both foreign and local companies engaged in scientific and technological research. TSP is a key hub for research and development where specialists and researchers from industry, academia and NSTDA collaborate to further inspire and stimulate the formation and growth of knowledge-based businesses. A network of 1,600 full-time researchers and technicians, of which around 400 hold doctorate degrees, can be found at TSP. TMC also provides important support in biotechnology through its Technology Licensing Office (TLO), which is responsible for the licensing of intellectual property.
The Board of Investment (BOI) is doing its part to support the growth and development of the biotechnology sector. BOI investment incentives for biotechnology companies in Thailand include a tax exemption on import duties on machinery, an 8-year exemption of corporate income tax, an additional 5-year 50% reduction of corporate income tax on net profit, a 10-year double deduction on transportation, electricity and water supply costs, and a deduction from net profit of 25% of investment in infrastructure installation and construction costs.