BIOTECH SUCCESS STORY
Reaping the rewards of local research efforts
Ex-academic works with universities in developing her company's products
Eyeing the potential in local research for biotechnology businesses, Panvipa Krisdaphong, a pharmaceutical lecturer and researcher at Mahidol University, decided to give up her 15-year academic career and become a businesswoman in the emerging technological field.
Confident that local research had business value, Panvipa established a company called Specialty Biotech, in order to conduct research and development on specialised biotechnology products.
"Our objective is to work with local researchers in universities and apply their research in developing our products," said Panvipa, who is managing director.
Set up three years ago with Bt120 million in registered capital, the company so far has cooperated in research and development with staff from several universities, including Chulalongkorn, Chiang Mai, Kasetsart, Khon Khan, Mahidol and Mae Fah Luang. Its initial results include yeast-extract products.
Yeast is a single-cell fungus that reproduces by budding or division. After passing through biotechnological processes, such as fermentation, modification and filtration or purification, it comes out as a unique multipurpose yeast extract.
These yeast extracts are key ingredients for many industries. In the animal-feed industry, they can be mixed in with the feed to build up the health of livestock and prevent diseases. In the cosmetics industry, they can be used as anti-oxidants.
Panvipa said Thailand imported several billion baht worth of these products each year, but with local technological development, it could reduce imports while exporting as well.
After three years of research, the company earlier this year succeeded in extracting yeast to produce eight products for the animal-feed, food, cosmetics and healthcare industries.
Panvipa said the company used raw material from Saccharomyces cerevisae yeast, which is a by-product of the beer fermentation process.
Nanotechnology and biotechnology are involved in the extraction process, but different methods are applied to develop each product.
Panvipa said the company's first product group comprises five yeast-extract products - Nanosorb, Nanomos, Immunose, Nanosil and Nanoproplus - and all are for the animal-feed industry.
Nanosorb is mixed with animal feed to safeguard it from toxic substances, while Nanomos helps capture bacteria that cause disease in animals' digestive systems.
Immunose stimulates an animal's immune system and promotes its health and growth while Nanosil is used to improve animal performance since it is an anti-oxidant and prevents diseases. Nanoproplus is a protein source containing amino acids and vitamin-B complex.
For the food industry, the company developed its Umamin yeast extract, which is a natural prime source of nutritional flavouring for food enhancement. Since it leaves nothing inside the body and has no side effects, Umamin can be used to replace existing seasoning powders.
Cosmocan is another yeast-extract product - one developed for the cosmetics industry. Panvipa said it could be incorporated into developing cosmetics with anti-oxidants for anti-ageing purposes. For healthcare, the company has developed Innovacan for use with food supplements, to improve immune responses and provide overall good health.
The company sells its products both locally and abroad and has partnered with the Animal Medicine Department of DKSH (Thailand), a giant distributor under the Diethelm Group, to sell its yeast-extract products for animal feed. It also works with Mitsui & Co (Thailand) to distribute Umamin to Japan market.
"These partnerships have proved that we can really turn our research into a valuable business, and we can say the key to our success was in collaborating with both the academic and the business worlds," she said.
The company is planning to work with new partners to expand its market to include more areas in the cosmetics and healthcare industries, both inside and outside the country.
Panvipa also plans to work with local researchers to use her biotech knowledge in producing docahexaenic acid (DHA). "Normally we have to extract DHA from marine fish, but what we want to do is produce DHA using biotechnological techniques," she said.
The company plans to begin research soon, and it will take three or four months to complete the project. It hopes next year to begin actual production of DHA using biotechnology. The company expects about Bt400 million in revenues this year.
Because the company's business involves R&D, it has received a Bt20-million loan from the National Innovation Agency under its Funding Good Innovation at No Interest Project.\