Position Statements on Biotechnology
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir's Speech in BioMalaysia 2002
by Former Malaysian Prime Minister, The Hon. Dato Seri
Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad at the International Convention on Biotechnology
Merdeka, Level 4,
I am honoured to be invited to address this International Convention on Biotechnology 2002. The life sciences are going to play a powerful role in the social and economic life of the human race. And Malaysia, which is bountifully endowed with biological resources by virtue of its tropical rain forest with its flora and fauna, is very keen to play a part and to contribute to this area of human knowledge and its application.
of the sciences, biotechnology is not new. Even as far back as 500
B.C. the Chinese used molds from fermented soybean curd as an antibiotic
to treat boils. The complete sequencing of the human genome under the
Human Genome Project was an international effort to map all human genes.
This was launched in 1990. When the first draft of the human genome
sequence was completed and announced in February 2000 by Celera Genomics,
the Biotechnology Revolution truly began. The complete sequencing of
the Human Genome has opened the door to many new fields of studies
including interaction of genes with genes, genes with proteins, protein
with protein etc. This has facilitated rapid advances in genomic medicine,
personalised medicine and gene therapy, and consequently in introducing
vast economic opportunities and potentials.
Truly we are living in a very exciting age. Already animals are being cloned and some are trying to clone humans.It seems that we can now produce any number of Einsteins and also numerous Hitlers. The ethical scientist may not want to do this but there will be crooked scientists working under crooked regimes who may flood the earth with uncontrollable monsters.It seems like the stuff of science-fictions but it can become a reality if we do not keep a tight grip on the direction that biotechnology takes. It is fine to produce specific organs for transplanting in human bodies but we should not try to play God and think of populating this earth with creatures which may destroy us in the end.
And so before we go further the ethics of the life sciences must be spelt out by the international community and enforcement agencies set up. Admittedly, we have not been too successful in controlling nuclear science. But imagine how many countries would be having nuclear weapons today if there had been no control at all.
live in fear because we suspect that some people have the capacity
to produce biological weapons of mass destruction. We may have a war
on our hands because this fear may lead us to react unwisely and actually
precipitate the war which we want to avoid. There is no guarantee that
those who wish to stop the use of biological weapons may not unleash
the same. We must remember that the atomic bombs were dropped seemingly
in defence by those who wish to stop a war.
has a lot to offer to the biotechnology industry. We are one of the
twelve countries in the world with mega-diverse bio-resource. Our flora
is estimated to contain about 12,500 species of flowering plants and
more than 1,100 species of ferns. Our marine ecosystem is rich in a
variety of life forms while the coral community is considered to be
the most diverse in the world. One can view Malaysia as having a large
reservoir of assets that has yet to be tapped. These assets require
exploration and intensive studies in terms of research and development
in order to make available to the rest of the world the benefits of
biotechnology, such as cheaper and more efficacious drugs derived from
natural resources, better therapies and higher crop production with
improved nutrients, taste and quality.
We have of course started to train the necessary manpower but it is unlikely that we will have enough. Researchers are a special breed of people. They need a lot of patience and deep interest in their studies and work. While they can probably make a lot of money from their research, it remains for others to believe in the potential of their results and to be willing to invest large sums of money over a prolonged period before any return can be expected. Researchers must therefore accept the need to share their discoveries with entrepreneurs and investors. A formula for sharing must be institutionalised so that the researchers get a fair return on their work.
Eastern tradition knowledge is not usually shared. We know how various
herbs are used in the treatment of diseases but there are hardly any
record of the formula or the recipe. Frequently the recipe dies with
the practitioner. At best the children of the practitioner inherit
the recipe with the injunction not to reveal to anyone but their children
and children's children.
we are now trained in science, some of the old culture of secrecy and
belief in magic even remains. This is unfortunate because there are
sufficient evidence that the old medicaments are often effective. As
a trained practitioner of modern medicine I should not be saying this
but I used to suffer from chronic intractable cough accompanied by
running nose and lung infection. What we call modern medication took
a long time to stop the cough. But persuaded by a Chinese friend, I
took Chinese medicine and the cough stopped. When I had another attack
I tried the medicine again, and again it worked. I tried to find out
what the medicine is made of and I was told that it was tiger's milk.
Obviously there is no willingness to divulge the secret.
no attempt has been made to analyse it, to identify the active ingredient,
to test, and to produce on a truly commercial scale. In fact it was
hinted that it would be given only to deserving people free of charge.
One should appreciate being selected but one cannot help feeling that
so many people are being deprived of this effective treatment.
of HIV / AIDS is a case in point. Clinging rigidly to their proprietary
rights they refuse to let others produce the drug unless huge royalties
are paid. Governments of the poor countries are forced to protect these
rights, maintain the high prices and see their own people suffer and
die for lack of treatment. Millions of sufferers will die as the drug
companies make billions for their healthy owners and shareholders.
Lives apparently are not so important as intellectual property and
the returns on investments.
neither the Asian model nor the Western model is ideal. With so much
that can be done in the field of biotechnology, it is again important
that the question of ethics be given serious consideration. The whole
world must benefit from the researches that can be done in the life
sciences. The promise is great. While we should ensure a fair return,
we should not be so profit oriented that we forget our social obligations.
The main implementation vehicle for the Biotechnology development programme is BioValley Malaysia. This project is intended to be a catalyst and testbed for the development of Malaysia's biotechnology industry.
BioValley Malaysia will have world-class facilities and infrastructure. It will be designed to enable the co-location of a critical mass of researchers, industry workers and entrepreneurs in an environment created to facilitate networking, sharing of information and ideas and the development of commercial activities pertaining to biotech. It will incorporate research, commercial, educational, recreational and residential facilities including a zone catering specifically for manufacturing. Moreover, with the project location in the MSC, we envisage this will foster closer and greater interactions between industries involving information technology and biotechnology.
embarking on a long journey and have taken the first few steps on that
journey. We invite all of you to join us in this journey and help us
in achieving our aspiration to make Malaysia one of the key biotechnology
hubs in the world while reaping the great potential benefits from our
greatly diversified bio-resources. This, in short, is Malaysia's Biotechnology
and Agricultural Organization
Society of African Scientists
United States of America
Biotechnology Advisory Committee
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