Amid Covid-19 vaccine quest, Malaysia can be hub for innovative medicine — Chin Keat Chyuan

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JULY 2 — As Malaysians grapple with the global coronavirus pandemic, the race is on to develop effective Covid-19 treatments and vaccines and to bring them to market as soon as possible.

Given the complexity and the uncharted nature of this journey, finding an effective solution will require close collaboration among many different stakeholders in the private and public sectors worldwide.

With more robust regulations that support innovation, Malaysia can make substantial contributions to this unprecedented global undertaking.

Malaysia can be a part of the solution today. On May 8, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and US President Donald Trump spoke by phone and discussed how Malaysia and the United States can enhance their co-operation on vaccine development and improve access to innovative medicines.

This encouraging conversation served to highlight the increased role our country can play on the global stage to address the pandemic.

One way to do this is to energise existing efforts to boost medical innovation and transform Malaysia into a regional innovation hub.

Malaysia is uniquely suited for the development of new innovative medicines for a number of reasons, including geographic centrality within Asia, a skilled and sizable English-speaking labour force, and relatively low capital costs.

Malaysia can leverage this strong foundation to attract foreign investments and drive our growing healthcare industry.

Despite current economic challenges relating to Covid-19, Malaysia remains a leading player in medical innovation within Asean and, according to the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Global Innovation Index, consistently outperforms other middle-income economies in terms of innovation capabilities.

At home, the Malaysian government continues to show it is serious about advancing healthcare as a priority growth area, and trends such as greater health consciousness and higher wages for Malaysian workers bode well for the future of the industry.

Even before the novel coronavirus reached our shores, the government promoted medical innovation in areas such as medical devices and digital health services.

This was done not only with short-term considerations in mind, but towards the advancement of broader economic priorities such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

As a result, these efforts have incentivised many multinational companies, including members of the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA), to make long-term investments in Malaysia’s healthcare market.

And now, many of these same companies are developing vaccines and new treatments to fight Covid-19 globally, with the goal of making them accessible to Malaysians as soon as possible.

Malaysia’s status as an innovation hub would also bring greater economic opportunities for Malaysians at a time when it is needed most.

Given that the healthcare sector is already a leading driver of economic growth, a supportive environment that facilitates further investments could help the economic recovery from Covid-19 and create highly skilled jobs for Malaysians.

This could lead to beneficial outcomes such as attracting more clinical trials to Malaysia, offering both employment and upskilling opportunities, and improving access to cutting edge treatments for Malaysian patients.

Much of this success is within reach, but it cannot be achieved without a regulatory environment that supports and encourages investments in innovation.

Ensuring greater protections for innovators that align with global best practices will support such an environment and will lead to greater access to the latest medicines for Malaysians, including those of non-communicable diseases — a high priority for the Ministry of Health.

By improving access to innovative medicines through global and regional supply chains, Malaysia will also be better placed to respond to pandemics in the future.

With manufacturers around the world reconsidering their current supply chains, Malaysia can step forward as a leading alternative destination for foreign investment.

In so doing, Malaysia can improve its biopharmaceutical infrastructure and develop proactive approaches with industry leaders to prepare for the next crisis.

Covid-19’s impact will undoubtedly be felt for years to come, but it has also highlighted Malaysia’s ability to adapt and manage a global health crisis that has confounded countries around the world.

We have risen to meet these challenges and at the same time have been presented with an opportunity: to showcase Malaysia as a regional and global leader in innovative medicine. If we choose to seize it, the benefits will last long after the virus is gone.

* Chin Keat Chyuan is president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia (PhAMA). The association represents 45 local and multinational companies involved in the importation, distribution and manufacture of pharmaceutical products.

** This is the personal opinion of the writer(s) or organisation(s) and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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