Saturday, August 25, 2007

Alor Gajah: World Biotechnology Hub?

I read with extreme interest, an article in the New Straits Times which proclaimed that Alor Gajah (in Melaka, by the way), will soon become the "next biotechnology hub of the world". Undertaking this "massive project costing RM1.36 billion" at the 113ha site is "California-based Actis Biologics Inc, a bio-pharmaceutical company which has set up a Malaysian-registered company Actis Biologics Malaysia Sdn Bhd."

Now, don't get me wrong, I welcome such investments into Malaysia, and certainly if indeed Malaysia can become a global biotechnology hub, it will be excellent news for the country. However, having experienced plenty of disastrous mega-projects in Malaysia with supposed foreign investment or participation, you will forgive me if I am a little apprehensive (understatement?) when it comes to such mega-announcements. I can't help but to suspect if there's anything fishy going on.

I'll just name a few examples here. Datuk Keramat Holdings Berhad was supposed to deliver the first phase of a US$60 million studio and entertainment complex is planned on a 480-hectare piece of land in Cyberjaya. It was to form an integral part of MSC's most prestigious project: the creation of a $790-million high-tech film studio and a Disneyesque theme park complex called the Entertainment Village. Unfortunately, the grand launch during the 2001 International Advisory Panel, complete with Jacky Chan in a shimmering white outfit, proved to be the only highlight of that initiative. Instead of sharing the blame, Multimedia Development Corporation laid the blame squarely on the developer after millions of ringgit was burnt.

And, what about another of Dr Mahathir Mohammad's favourite projects - InventQjaya?
A Dr Sadeg of Reveo Inc (USA), a Libyan-American, told CNN's TalkAsia host Lorraine Hahn in a programme aired in November 2002 that former premier Mahathir Mohamad had invited him to invest in Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor after a meeting in New York. The project is funded by a government loan of RM437 million, of which RM228 million has been paid out. Now, with practically nothing to show besides the ownership of several commercially useless patents, the Malaysian government is charging Reveo of money laundering and absconding with the loan. Disaster? You tell me.

Of course, lets not forget the latest mega-project scandal the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ), a RM1.3 billion project which ballooned to RM4.6 billion, which in turn now requires government bailout with a soft loan which will probably never see the light of day.

So, back to our very own "RM1.36 billion bio-technology hub". Who is this Actis Biologics Inc, and are they sufficiently competent to manage such mega projects? With the project suffer the same fate as InventQjaya and require the same bailout like PKFZ?

I've done some very simple preliminary checks, something that you and me can all do with Google. Here are some initial and not necessarily conclusive findings, which nevertheless, raises some interesting questions for the authorities to follow up on:
  1. Based on a free summary report by Dun & Bradstreet, a premier provider of international and US business credit information and credit reports, Actis Biologics is an unlisted company which started in 2004. It has annual sales of US$530,000 and 7 employees.

    Um.. a 3 year old company with 7 employees and revenue of about half a million US Dollars, taking on a RM1.3 billion "world biotechnology hub" project?

  2. Now, if the above data is sufficiently intriguing, there's a more detailed business information report available for US$110.00, which may contain further juicy information. The report studies key performance information, including sales figures, net worth, financial condition, legal suits etc. I'm sure the relevant Malaysian government authorities in-charge of the project will find the US$110 money well spent. There are of course, other reports on the company which can be purchased.

  3. It will of course be useful to see other projects which Actis have undertaken, and in particular, one in India which was launched at the end of 2005. Despite many press statements then sounding overwhelmingly similar to the NST article, no further news is available as to the progress of the project in Mumbai. As reported in the Economic Times, India, Actis planned a US$3 million investment in a R&D lab in India. Also, check out the report in Hindu Business Line or the one at Rediff.com:
    US-based biopharmaceutical company Actis Biologics Inc is setting up its wholly owned subsidiary in India in a move to make the country a hub for its clinical research and developmental activities.

    Having recently licensed the angiozyme technology, jointly developed by Sirna Therapeutics and Chiron, Actis expects this technology platform to power drug development in different segments. This technology helps block blood supply to cancer cells and the same method can be used for fat cells too, he said.

  4. Which brings me to this "angiozyme" technology. A 1-pager introduction on the enzyme is available here. Actis bought the rights to Angiozyme from the owners, Sirna and Chiron for worldwide distribution i.e., Actis isn't the inventor of the product. As reported here in the November 2005 edition of the Business World, India:
    Actis does not do any drug discovery. Instead, it licences promising drugs that have cleared early stages of human trials from either universities or biopharmaceutical firms in the US after a due diligence by its own scientific team. What Actis wants are partners in India that would be interested in helping it take these products through clinical trials in exchange for marketing rights in emerging markets and global manufacturing rights.

    Actis expects that the capital will be put up by the Indian partner
    while Actis brings the clinical and manufacturing expertise needed for a completely new biotech product.
The question then is, and I assume the situation is relatively similar for Alor Gajah, if Actis is not bringing in the much needed capital, then who is forking out the RM1.3 billion investment? The Malaysian Government? You and me?

Let me reiterate, I have every wish that the project announced by Actis will be wildly successful, for then it'll prove to the world that Malaysia is a worthwhile country to invest in. However, our past experiences, particularly with incompetent and guillible government officials, it certainly necessitate that stringent due diligence be conducted to ensure that we don't dig another hole for ourselves.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The main question is 10% masuk poket siapa?

Anonymous said...

Tony, thank you for highlighting this issue and putting together the necessary information on Actis. I hope everyone who reads this piece of information shares the same concern as you. I hope to see some form of accountability 'watchdog' group that keeps a 'longterm eye' on this issue.

I hear and feel your frustration.

deming

Anonymous said...

Very likely these people have been misled by our innocent looking PM Pak Lah. Only God knows who he really is.

Anonymous said...

Just another white elephant project launched by the shameless Barisan Nasional government for them to siphon more momey into their pockets.

When all the money is gone, don't worry, there will be another generous bailout using tax payers' money.

This situation will never change as long as BN is still in power.

multidimid said...

Has the canceled one in Perak transferred to Malacca?

Aug 15, IPOH: A plan to build the country’s first biofuel plant project in Trong near Taiping is off and the state government is not saying why for fear of legal action.

Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamad Tajol Rosli Ghazali, who told reporters this after chairing the weekly state executive council meeting on Wednesday, only said: “It did not materialise.”

Declining to reveal the reason for cancellation of the RM1.4bil project, he said: “No need-lah. Later, I could get sued.”

Anonymous said...

"Students who aspire to be future leaders of the country must not side with or love only one race, the Prime Minister said."

He is such a loser, living in his wonderland. Can someone wake him up?

Anonymous said...

I was that Actis Biologics Inc is quite a new company. Hope to check to find out more details of it

Anonymous said...

I was told that Actis Biologics Inc is quite a new company. Hope to check to find out more details of it

chia said...

what happened to bio valley in the multimedia super corridor?? there are companies set up there already, but they're all too busy having coffee breaks from what i heard! i'm in the biotech field and would love to have something to come home to, but i don't know about alor gajah..

Anonymous said...

Chia,

I think you haven't read this famous article published in Nature in 2005 "Malyasian biotechnology: The valley of ghosts" (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v436/n7051/full/436620a.html).

For those who still think that the BN government will be successful in high-tech mega projects, think again!!

Anonymous said...

In the end all the investments and hype about setting this corridor or that corridor or this hub or that hub will lead to a lot of R& D activities.
R&D is not research and development but RIHAT & DUDUK at canteens

Anonymous said...

I think people are jumping the gun without knowing facts. Actis Biologics has infact made an investment in India and created a large Biotech Organization which it has invested into through its own sources a total of over US $20million. No money was taken from the country. From what I have read so far, it seems Actis is know taking on this mega project and is planning on investing its own money. Some straight facts about Actis Biologics, is there are over 30 scientists working in this organization at the best labs around the US. Another one for your readers, Actis has almost 50 employees in India. Another fact, Actis has teamed up with some of the largest developers in Asia to setup the project. Another fact, Actis has no negative history behind it. Another Fact, Actis is coming to Malaysia to help create a biotech hub based on Malaysias strategic location, cost and great infr structure, make it a condusive location for east to meet west. Fact, no real opportunities exist in Bio / life Sciences in Malaysia while highly trained Malaysian Biotechnologists live overseas. So lets give them a chance before being so negative.

Anonymous said...

"Fact, no real opportunities exist in Bio / life Sciences in Malaysia while highly trained Malaysian Biotechnologists live overseas"

There are in fact many highly trained Malaysian Biotechnologists in the country, just that the government does not want to give them opportunities to let them develop their career and contribute to the country. Instead, they keep practicing a race-based policy and appoint someone with no research credential to be the Research Centre's Head.

I personally know many internationally renowned Biotechnologists forced to retire from local U. They are still enthusiatic to contribute to the country, but when no opportunities are given, they finally end up working for Singapore.

The problem is that the BN government is never serious about human capital development. The conclusion is that, as long as they don't adopt a meritrocacy-system, they will never be successful in any high-tech projects.

Silent Me Not AUthor 1 said...

Wonder why malaysians refuse to dig in a little deeper than just reading the mainstream newspaper. A quick google search on the aforementioned Actis Biologics...

multi billions R&D in india..what happened to it?
http://inhome.rediff.com/money/2005/oct/24actis.htm

Estimated annual sales of $530,000 and incorporated in 2004...yet managed to establish two multi billions R&D both in Malaysia n INdia...and all these are done even before IPO (public listing)..surely this venture has received some heavy backing..perhaps bill gates...in the search for aids cure?
http://www.manta.com/coms2/dnbcompany_hf06qh

and the big company itself
http://actisbiologics.com/index.html

btw, don't get me wrong too..i think it's a legit startup company from the states, but yet again and again, us malaysians will fall for such a big number traps. probably 80% of these billion dollars come from our taxpayer pocket in terms of tax break, incentives etc...and the local partners are probably AAB 's cousin's son.

malaysia boleh.

Anonymous said...

Wat happened to our few years old technology park malaysia?

It just became a normal private college.....giving diplomas

Soon Alor gajah park will become a theme park

Anonymous said...

Tony, its very interesting how cynical you are about everything the govt. wants to do and how glorious you feel about what you want to do. Are you worried, that others will be able to do what you were able to do? Did the govt give you hand outs or did you make it on your own? I am sure you made it on your own, so why shouldnt the entreprenures take the bull by the horn and do something for themselves? The Biocity maybe a great place for a lot of these biotechnologist in US, Europe or Singapore etc to come back home and attain something. The govt. along with Actis Biologics is planning on setting up various companies. So who will be working in these companies? Ghosts? Obviously people, so where will people come from? Thin air? Naturally they would be hired from within Malaysia and what doesnt exist will be brought from outside. Hey Tony, you got the opportunity and made it, let others get the opportunity too. Dont be cynical and try to kill a project before it gets off the ground. I am not saying that the govt. shouldnt be cautiously optimistic. They should, but give them a break for trying something worthwhile. Dont hang them before. There is no theme park planned at this site, only a Biotech / life science campus. Dont you guys want one? Do you wish to have brain drain and send it all oversees? Dont you want Malaysia, being a super power in the Biotech world? If people are willing to take the chance and fund it through what ever means) and create jobs for the masses and for the life science experts and hence (obviously if there are a lot more jobs and less people, salaries will go up - Basic supply and demand - Specialized skill set is required - this is not agriculture where you till the soil). In regards to Actis having funds, whats the problem, if they are able to raise funds from VC's and other high networth individuals and invest them in the relevant countries? Money isnt being siphoned out, it is being invested to help grow the economy and the investment. Any problems with that? Did you do it as a charity for your IT company? DIdnt you make money for your investors or did the investors loose their shirt on the investment in your company? Come on Tony, be fair, give the groups a break and if they dont perform then crucify them, not before.

Anonymous said...

The arabs who invested in IRD is going to regret when the project becomes a white elephant and their investments goes into paying those corrupted ministers...

Anonymous said...

Less talk!!! Just tell me one, just one corridor, hub or govt linked company that has been successful???

demon said...

No wonder.Is this the reason why the Alor Gajah district council is going all out to close all the pig farm in the district?
One day we have the council saying that all the pigs' building are illegal;given 30 days to tear down or else...Whatever happen to Istana K?
Now,the MCA politicians are saying that the pig farms are polluting the drain near the College Islam.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if all the pig rearers pay their tax....! And if they did, where does all the taxes from pig business goes to?

papa_melaka said...

SUDAH LAH CINA KAU ORANG MMG TAK SUKA KERAJAAN YANG DI TERAJUI OLEH ORANG MELAYU KALAU NAK SGT BANGSA KAU MERINTAH PERGI LA KE SINGAPORE