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INDONESIAN MEDICAL BIOTECH TALENTS ENGAGE WITH GLOBAL RESEARCH COMMUNITY

Author: Nabil Ghazi Jahja (The Jakarta Post)

Advances in medical biotechnology have shown rapid development, especially with the pandemic that has threatened humanity over the past year and a half.  A perfect example of that is the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine development, which took less than a year. While COVID-19 vaccines were developed in a short time, drug discoveries and general medical biotechnology in Indonesia are not without their challenges.

The Pfizer Biotech Fellowship program initiated by Pfizer Indonesia, in collaboration with Tenggara Strategics, is part of the effort to address such issues. The program is aimed at increasing the capacity of undergraduate and postgraduate students by providing coaching and mentorship from local and international professional researchers. Participants also have the opportunity to obtain scholarships.

The Pfizer Biotech Fellowship program has collaborated with both national and global experts, including from the Multi-Regional Clinical Trials (MRCT) Center and Kjeldgaard LLC, to discuss various biotech issues such as the development of new drugs, treatments and new medical technologies. In addition, the program also discusses the challenges researchers in Indonesia face coming up with innovations in the biotech sector.

Biotech experts gather to share knowledge and experience with Indonesian academia

A series of virtual mentoring sessions organized as part of the Pfizer fellowship provided training and knowledge exchange with health biotechnology experts. Participants were eager to learn more about the drug-development process, including challenges to their development, the mainstream focus on contemporary medicinal biotechnology, and the levels of synergy among academia, industry and the government within the sector.

During the capacity-building session, Barbara E. Bierer, faculty director of the MRCT Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained that the development of medicines, other than those related to COVID-19, often takes almost a decade to complete. She spoke to graduate and undergraduate students and their lecturers from 11 universities across Indonesia during the virtual mentoring session. “The pathway typically takes between nine and 15 years to develop an approved drug. A number of products are eliminated in clinical trials due to toxicity or lack of efficacy. We shouldn’t be influenced by the rapidity of product development during COVID-19 as the entire enterprise is working on finding different therapies and prevention strategies.”

Dr. Bierer also mentioned implications from the experience of COVID-19 for the future. On the one hand, the pandemic opened the possibility of developing biotechnology faster than previously imagined, propelled by collaboration, commitment and resources. COVID-19 also showed that flexibility is essential in tackling ever-changing global diseases.  But on the other hand, COVID-19 has prevented researchers working on other diseases from making progress as the focus on the pandemic redirected resources and time from medical professionals.

One of the resources affected by the COVID-19 situation was the manufacture of drugs for people with rare diseases. Such types of drugs are limited, due to the small number of clinical trials performed on a small population of patients. Richard Kjeldgaard, founder of Kjeldgaard LLC, emphasized that to counter this situation, many companies are collaborating with hospitals, nationally or globally, to conduct clinical trials. So even though the number of patients on a national-scale is small, samples could be taken globally.

However, Kjeldgaard emphasized that in order to carry out clinical trials across the country to the fullest, the government may need to support the operation since it requires massive resources, including financial support. He also explained that to develop a biopharmaceutical undustry, a country needs to ensure a supporting policy ecosystem, including that related to IP protection, market access, and research and development.

In another Pfizer Biotech Fellowship session, Sangkot Marzuki, a member of the Medical Science Commission at the Indonesian Science Academy (AIPI), highlighted that Indonesia’s lack of development in biotechnology was due to insufficient research funding. Sangkot, who also served as director of the Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology from 1992 to 2014, stated that while research funds for biotechnology are available, only financially beneficial research attains grants from the government or industry, while unprofitable ones are left underfunded.

Sangkot stated that the research ecosystem in Indonesia still lacks innovation and published research, as universities, industry and the government are often out of sync. In this case, product-oriented research and research-based product development are still lacking. The Pfizer Biotech Fellowship program is one form of stimulus to increase the urgency for collaboration among universities, industry and the government.

Eleven private and state universities with medical biotechnology majors are participating in the Pfizer Biotech Fellowship, with many contributing valuable ideas to improve the biotechnology industry. The program is established in the hope of it becoming the dawn of further development in biotechnology, both in human resources and knowledge, given how medical biotechnology has spearheaded the fight against various diseases, including against COVID-19.

This article was published in thejakartapost.com with the title "“Indonesian medical biotech talents engage with global research community”". Click to read: “Indonesian medical biotech talents engage with global research community” (thejakartapost.com).
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