Monday August 22, 2011

BiotechCorp seeks to provide venture capital funding


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Biotechnology Corp (BiotechCorp), the lead agency for developing the country's biotechnology industry, is seeking an allocation from the Government to provide venture capital funding to BioNexus-status companies.

Newly-appointed chief executive officer Datuk Dr Mohd Nazlee Kamal said there was currently a lack of financial resources to take companies from the proof-of-concept stage to commercialisation.

“I think there is a gap in terms of funding biotech companies, and we hope to close it,” Nazlee told StarBiz.

Nazlee: Hopes to close gap.

(BioNexus is the biotechnology industry's equivalent of the Multimedia Super Corridor.)

According to him, the number of venture capitalists that offered funds for biotechnology was still limited.

“If our BioNexus companies try to get fund from the bank, I think they will find it very difficult. Many financial institutions do not understand the risk structure of the biotech industry, where the most valued item is the IP (intellectual property).

“IP is not a tangible component to be evaluated, and they don't have the gut feeling to assess these technologies,” he said.

Asked whether BiotechCorp was looking to disburse the fund itself, Nazlee said the agency had the required number of people who could evaluate biotech ventures. Given its experience in getting foreign direct investment (FDI) and helping the BioNexus companies, it understands the business know-how as well as the issues and challenges.

For the capacity-building phase of the National Biotechnology Policy (2005-2010), BiotechCorp was allocated RM265mil to undertake six developmental programmes, including providing start-up funds.

Nazlee, who was appointed as CEO effective July 16, joined BiotechCorp at the start of phase two the commercialisation phase (2011-2015). He seems like a good fit, being a scientist with a certain degree of business exposure.

Nazlee, who has a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Queensland (Australia), has worked for international companies such as B. Braun Malaysia, Sartorius (M) Sdn Bhd and Amersham Biosciences. Prior to joining BiotechCorp, he was group managing director of Inno Bio Ventures, a government-owned company whose subsidiaries include biopharmaceutical firm Inno Biologics Sdn Bhd.

“Since BiotechCorp has done a good job in giving out the start-up funds (under phase one), we hope in the second phase we'll be given a venture capital fund to help the BioNexus companies to move forward,” Nazlee said.

“Once the companies have passed the proof-of-concept stage, they will need more fund to move forward or they will just die off. But the fund will be changing from a start-up fund to a venture capital fund. That means we (BiotechCorp) will take a positioning in the company to make sure their burn rate will be manageable that they can get to commercialisation before they use up all of their money.”

Nazlee did not disclose how much fund BiotechCorp is asking from the Government. However, he said the amount was higher than the RM265mil received under phase one.

Banks or venture capital funds could work with BiotechCorp to build an even bigger coffer via a matching grant, he said.

“Let's say the Government gives BiotechCorp RM200mil. We hope to work together with a partner for another RM200mil, so we can jointly have a RM400mil budget,” he explained.

Asked how many of the 192 BioNexus firms were expected to make it through the commercialisation phase, Nazlee said: “If 20% of the companies get into the global market in the next five years, I think we'll be very happy. We have to make sure as many companies as possible make it, but if 20% get into the global market, that will help to become a driver for the industry to move forward.”

Its target was to form more than 20 global companies, he said. “I think it's achievable. Inno Biologics, for example, is already a global company with contracts from India and South Korea, and it is hoping to get some from Europe.”

BiotechCorp will also focus on promoting collaboration between local and overseas companies. “For a start, we plan to be at BIO-Europe (Europe's largest partnering conference for biotech) from Oct 31 to Nov 2 in Duesseldorf, Germany, to expose Malaysian companies to those from Europe,” he said.

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