On 16 June 2020, the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) represented by its President, Dr. Narong Sirilertworakul and the Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Sciences (TCELS) represented by its CEO, Dr. Nares Damrongchai, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will see them work together to enhance Thailand’s capacities in medical research and development through modern technology and innovation. The partnership of both parties under the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, aims to promote and intensify medical research and innovations as well as move R&D out of the laboratory to practical application. In addition, both organizations will support medical-device testing to help the private sector meet international standards and gain recognition worldwide. In the long term, this will reinforce Thailand's competitiveness in the development of science, technology and innovation (STI).
In the initial stages, NSTDA and TCELS will jointly develop drugs based on deep technologies in an effort to substitute imports, resolve shortages of medicines, strengthen the potential of drug production and respond effectively to emergencies like COVID-19.
Dr. Narong revealed that the NSTDA comprises 4 key research pillars, namely Biotech, NECTEC, MTEC and NANOTEC. The agency has also established the Health Focus Research Center which supervises 10 Technology Development Groups (TDGs), including Medical Devices and Aging Society, Precision Medicine and Digital Healthcare.
Moreover, the NSTDA provides technical services that conform to international standards in terms of advanced technology and academic networks in and outside the country. Meanwhile, the agency is planning to upgrade suppliers in the medical industry and create a Research and Innovation Community with a focus on health development through the Technology Management Center ( TMC) and Thailand Science Park. The agency is also investing in overseas health clusters including the World Business Angel Forum through NSTDA Holding, a joint venture between NSTDA and startups or spin-off companies.
NSTDA is well prepared to strengthen Thailand's economy in the global arena through science, technology and innovation development. The agency is determined to support the R&D arms of the public and private sectors especially in the medical industry, which is a key driver of the country's strength.
Dr. Narong added that this partnership aims to integrate the capabilities of both parties for the development of medical research and innovation in Thailand through advanced technologies. This encompasses, for example, modified drugs, generic drugs that require advanced technologies such as cancer treatments, biopharmaceutical products, herbal traditional medicines, devices, medical software, precision medicine, cosmetics, functional ingredients, food for vulnerable population groups and others. In addition to TCELS, the NSTDA has partnered with public and private organizations involved in the medical industry.
The R&D is designed to strengthen advanced medical research and drive the development of medical innovations and technologies to create a new medical technology sector in the country. This would see the improvement in the health of the Thai people thanks to Thai products and also enhance the potential of Thai entrepreneurs and startups though the BCG Economy Model (Bio-Economy, Circular Economy and Green Economy) with emphasis placed on driving medical R&D to increase the country's competitiveness in the global trade arena.
“In the near future, the NSTDA and the TCELS will jointly create a new model known as ‘Technology-based medicine’ to upgrade the pharmaceutical industry. This aims to support the manufacturers in developing high-value medicines that are currently imported and in short supply. The collaboration will enhance knowledge, the potential for drug manufacture and respond effectively to emergencies, such as by improving drug protocols to cure emerging diseases like COVID-19. In addition, the NSTDA plans to develop a program for interested suppliers to develop medical devices and medical digital technology. Furthermore, the agency supports electronic testing for manufacturers to boost growth of the medical industry, reduce reliance on imports and increase economic value based on the BCG Economy Model,” Dr. Narong explained.
Dr. Nares said that the TCELS has been promoting the development the medical devices industry with a particular focus on increasing the potential of medical research and innovation development in Thailand through advanced technology. The TCELS has partnered with the KPBMA (the Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association) to enhance Thailand’s capacity to produce generic drugs which require a deep technology-based production process. This will result in lowering drug prices, reduce imported drugs and enable the treatment of diseases with more effective medications.
The TCELS recently organized a workshop on National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) and Upskilling-Reskilling of Testing and Standard Certification. The TCELS aims to support the creation of an ecosystem in the country to provide standard certification in the value chain for the sustainable development of medical devices. The ecosystem would also enhance the capability of organizations specializing in medical devices in the private sector, the testing and examination of service providers as well as SMEs that produce medical devices.
In addition to medical devices, the TCELS is supporting a research fund for manufacturers to develop cosmetic ingredients that meet quality standards, provide knowledge in design concepts as well as coaching for businesses in research design, regulations and export procedures related to functional food. The training also shows entrepreneurs the path to commercial application thar translates research into clinical practice. The TCELS initially targeted 60 participating companies.
“The NSTDA-TCELS partnership will meet the goals of Thailand 4.0 which are Security, Prosperity and Sustainability, through substantially reinventing the healthcare industry. It also aims to gear up the BCG (Bio economy, Circular economy and Green economy) by elevating innovations in medical and healthcare services across 8 fields: 1) Personalized Medicine 2) Vaccines and New Medicines, 3) Medical Devices, 4) Telemedicine, 5) Clinical Research Infrastructure, 6) Herbal and Traditional Medicine, 7) Nutraceuticals and 8) Medical Tourism. However, the success of implementation relies on 4 key mechanisms including R&D, innovation and manufacturing; regulations; infrastructure; and human resource development. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of healthcare reinvention through the collaborative efforts of TCELS and NSTDA,” Dr. Nares concluded.