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Opinion: Brunei’s next opportunity: The pharma industry

By Dr Arno Maierbrugger, The Brunei Times


THE project to transform Brunei’s economy away from hydrocarbons is fuelled by a new idea: Brunei could become a partner of the pharmaceutical industry of population-rich nations such as India and China if it embarks on the strategy of becoming a supplier of biochemicals, and it also could build up a pharma sector on its own.

Brunei is lucky to be located in a region with great biodiversity, and it has come to the attention of global biotech experts that the country boasts a high variety of natural chemicals in the flora of its tropical forests. The Borneo rainforests are some of the oldest in the world and are a reservoir of genetic diversity which offers a rich source of medicinal plants, high-yield foods and other useful forest products. Thus, in the recent past, scientists from around the world were visiting to Brunei to discover beneficial chemicals or compounds that occur naturally and which have a large number scientific and medical applications, especially, but not only, in Chinese traditional medicine and India’s Ayurveda.

The Brunei government is fully aware of this potential and has already identified the sultanate’s rich biodiversity as key factor in promoting research and development and attracting overseas partners to investment projects. The forestry department has been tasked with plans for a biotechnology industry to develop pharmaceuticals from the plants found in the rainforests. Even researchers from Japan and Germany have already cast an eye on Brunei’s rich and diverse flora.

Brunei has set up its first-ever pharmaceutical company, Vivapharm, in 2011 with the help of Canadian investment and know-how. Since then, the country has set an ambitious aim to become the hub for halal pharmaceutical exports in the region. Brunei has also recently developed its very own guidelines and standards for the handling and manufacturing of halal pharmaceutical products with the objective to pave the way for the establishment and production of halal pharmaceuticals in the country while seeking to become a global leader in halal industry.

However, due to the virgin state of Brunei’s pharma industry, there is a widespread lack of skilled human capital. The government will need to provide enough training facilities for pharmaceutical experts and biotech researchers if it wants to succeed in the industry and eventually set up functional research and development facilities which are crucial to develop competitive pharmaceutical products on its own.

All in all, with the huge market for traditional medicine in India and China, as well as the enormous number of potential (Muslim or non-Muslim) consumers for halal pharmaceuticals (and cosmetics) in Southeast Asia, the strategy for Brunei to develop a thriving pharma industry is certainly the way to go.

Inside Investor has just published its brand-new investment report Inside ASEAN 2013/14. Dr Arno Maierbrugger is editor-in-chief of investvine.com.

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