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Research and innovation needed to exploit PH’s biotechnology potential
by Stephen Norries A. Padilla
05-August-2012 Philippine Daily Inquirer
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The huge potential of the Philippines to be competitive in the global biotechnology industry was underscored at the recent Novartis Biotechnology Leadership Camp (BioCamp).

“For biotechnology to be the country’s next great industry, we need a strong research culture, a highly skilled workforce and a conducive business climate,” stressed Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development.

Montoya, who represented Science Secretary Mario Montejo, expressed optimism that the Philippines would be “a formidable player in the biotech arena” because of its rich biodiversity, large talent pool, research universities and institutions, and the presence of financial markets to make it happen.

“Just add innovation and entrepreneurship to the picture and we are on our way to the top,” he said.

The BioCamp, a pioneering annual seminar for entrepreneurial students interested in pursuing careers in biotechnology, was attended by graduate and postgraduate students in the natural sciences.

Organized by Novartis Healthcare Philippines, with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), it featured talks by forerunners in biotechnology.

From the various presentations, participants got an insider’s perspective of the challenges and opportunities in biotechnology. They also “learn from industry leaders how to attract investments and start a biotech company; work together, learn and network with students [from other research institutions]; and find out more about career-enhancing opportunities in biotech and academia.”

Novartis country president Thomas Weigold stressed the need to attract more research into the Philippines and to encourage young talented researchers to remain in the country to make it progressive.

“We believe that talent development in the sciences, research and development, and biotechnology are key to ensuring the country’s competitiveness in the knowledge economy,” Weigold said.

He paid tribute to national hero Jose Rizal, a natural scientist himself, for using his talent and knowledge to give back to the society and contribute to nation-building.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate committee on science and technology, said research was important to a third-world country like the Philippines.

“In today’s global economy, knowledge is the key resource that drives innovation, productivity and economic growth. To stay competitive, we need to continuously enhance the country’s science and technology capabilities and adopt a research- and development-oriented mindset,” Angara said, adding the country would not progress without innovation.

After the talks, participants from the University of the Philippines (UP), Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, University of Santo Tomas (UST), St. Paul University-Tuguegarao, New Era University and St. Luke’s College of Medicine (SLCM) asked questions on research funds, patenting, dengue detection, etc. They then applied some of the things they learned in preparing case studies.

Participants were divided into three six-member groups. Each group worked on a hypothetical project to attract potential investors to help develop a drug for either breast cancer or orphan disease.

Each group then presented its case for funding of the chosen ailment. All three groups chose orphan disease (a rare ailment that affects only a small percentage of the population, hence, is largely neglected in research and development).

Following the presentations, two students were chosen to represent the country in the international BioCamp on Aug. 26-29 at the Novartis International Headquarters in Basel, Switzerland.

Taking into account academic record, professional experience and extracurricular activities, representatives of Novartis and DOST chose Ruth Marian S. Guzman and Henson L. Lee Yu.

Guzman is a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science Biology graduate of UP Diliman. She interned at Universita degli Studi di Padova in Italy. She is currently a biology instructor at UP Diliman, while taking up graduate studies in international health at the UP Open University.

Lee Yu, on the other hand, is a cum laude chemistry graduate of Ateneo. He finished his master’s degree in chemistry as a DOST scholar at Ateneo and received his MS in Molecular Medicine from SLCM. He is currently an instructor at Ateneo.

Others on the judges’ short list were Reuel M. Bennett (UST), Alonzo A. Gabriel (UP Diliman), Darryl Joy C. Juntila (UP Diliman) and Jose Paulo E. Lorenzo (UP Diliman).

Other speakers at the BioCamp were professor Maoi Arroyo, founder and chief executive officer of Hybridigm Consulting Inc.; Dr. Raul Destura, director of the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; Federico Macaranas, Asian Institute of Management professor; lawyer Andrew Ong, deputy director general of Intellectual Property Philippines; Dr. Carmencita Padilla, executive director of the Philippine Genome Center; Dr. William Padolina, former DOST secretary and former deputy director general of the International Rice Research Institute; and Dr. Imelda Peña, director of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

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