call for clear direction, funding, standardisation
Thai medical and health sectors have unique capabilities to tap technologies and product commercialisation as part of the successful Thailand 4.0 vision, said a group of medical experts at The Nation roundtable.
They welcomed the government’s inclusion of the medical and health sectors under the Eastern Economic Corridor and Thailand 4.0 but noted a further holistic approach on development was still required to put the “house in order”.
Associate Prof Manop Pithukpakorn, Division of Medial Genetics, Department of Medicine, Mahidol University, said Thailand already has worldclass doctors and researchers produced by local medical schools.
“If we can produce the complete research on biomedical, it will be more useful. Currently, we separately conduct the research without the same [national] direction. Research needs collaboration and interdiscipline among different sectors – not only medical but also engineering,” said Manop.
Wasun Chantratita, head of Virology Laboratory and head of the Center for Medical Genomics, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital, said the government would need to bring together all stakeholders to determine which areas of biomedical research should be focused on and funded. Clinical trial is one of the areas with the highest potential for the Thai biomedical industry.
Clinical trial is a research study that explores whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. These studies also may show which medical approaches work best for certain illnesses or groups of people.
Nares Damrongchai, chief executive officer of Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Science (Public Organisation) said the role of the government is very important in the period of precompetition since it has a lot of uncertainties. So, in this period, the government’s funding and support are crucial.
Suparerk Borwornpinyo, chief operating officer, Excellent Center for Drug Discovery, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, said Thai medicinal plants can become a biomedical winner for the country if the production and manufacturing are improved. The challenge is how to leverage the production quality and to standardise the manufacturing of Thai medicinal plants to become precision medicines suitable for supply to the global market.
“Thailand has a lot of medicinal plants, which can be further developed as medicines, but it lacks development standards. It needs to standardise each stage of the whole process from planting until to becomes a medicine – which plant will be which medicine and how to produce it. It cannot be done only in a laboratory but it needs to trial the product and realuse case,” said Suparerk.
Kwanchanok Pasuwat, director of the Biological Engineering Programme, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), said that most of the biomedicals are in the laboratory, it needs to scale the biomedical researches quickly to real use. Engineering can help to magnify the biomedical research. For example, the KMUTT has worked with Siriraj Hospital to scale the medical treatment by using cell to mass production, and it found that it could use robots to nurture cells while skilled labour moved to monitor robots.
“Medicals need to tell us the research issues; what areas they need us to do engineering research for them. For example, in collaboration with Siriraj Hospital, our role is to take care of robot manufacturing and quality control. The benefit is, it helps the precision medicine speed, and mass production, and it reduces the cost,” said Kwanchanokl.
Songpon Deechongkit, managฌing director of Siam Bioscience, said that demand in biomedicals is rapidly growing because of the trend towards an ageing society. Biomedical is the highgrowth industry. Biophamaceuticals is one potential area for Thailand’s biomedical industry. The goal is how to produce and supply biophamaceuticals to the world. Biophamaceuticals is seeing doubledigit growth per year, while the other medicines are growing less than 5 per cent per year.
“Biopharmaceutical has high value and high price, because of the higher cost of technologies in the production of this kind of medicine, said Songpon.
Nares said the government will need to take stock of what the country has and what the country needs.
Similarly, Manop noted that the sector also needs “quickwin researches”. Once the direction is set, the formula of support will follow.
Manop said if Thailand can maintain its position as a medical hub, it can create a big market for niche medical services, which is added value on such as genome, bio-pharma, and cell therapy.
Meanwhile, Songpon pointed out that biomedicals is not a free market ecosystem; it involves collaboration between government and the private sector. Biomedical needs users and customers. It needs commitment from all stakeholders to support, to use, and to be customers.
Suparerk also agreed that it needs collaboration from all stakeholders for example customers and users, law and regulation, and FDA, while Nares added that it needs to balance the support and regulation on biomedical.
The panelists also welcomed the move to ease regulations on imported talents to help raise Thai research capabilities.
Nares said Thailand is a big enough market for biomedical and it is the centre of Asean. Thailand has high capability in biomedical and it does not involve high cost. Thailand also has capability in being a technology partner for foreign biomedical business. For example, Thailand can be transferred into the hub of medical equipment manufacturing, Big Data, and Artificial intelligence.
Picking the future winners
Panellists predict biomedical winners in the next 10 years:
Wasun: Genomic for preprotective medicine, which is expected to boom in Asia Pacific, especially in cancer treatment. Genomic can be applied and utilised in cosmetic and food industries. Clinical trial is a must, especially for non-infectious diseases, heart disease and hypertension. Meanwhile, Genome medicine and preprotective medicine will have high potential in Thailand and Asia Pacific to support patients needing infertility treatment, to provide and apply medicine depending on gene and the checking of a baby’s genes before it is born.
Nares: Biomedical in medicine, vaccine, and medical examinations tools for infectious diseases since Thailand has done a lot of research about infectious diseases for a long time. There are two more opportunities for medicine manufacturing: moving to produce highvalue medicine such as biophama rather than generic pharmacy; and clinical research, which is a highpotential area for Thailand. Thailand is good in clinical research because of good doctors and hospitals. Clinical research is the final test before a medicine goes into production, and is the area where a pharmaceutical firm spends the most in developing medicine.
Kwanchanok: Personalised medicine has high potential in Thailand.
Songpon: Biopharma has the potential to become the national champion industry for Thailand. It can help prevent and detect diseases in early stages.
Suparerk: Thai medicinal plants, if production and manufacturing are improved.
Manop: Medicine and medical services starting from biopharma, chemical pharmaceutical, and Thai medicinal plants. Thailand has high potential in medical services such as precision medicine, but it needs to intensify biomedical research. Hospitals, which have the environment for innovation, have the ability to do this.