Progress On Biotech
Anne Mariae Celeste V. Jumadla
“Biodiversity, our greatest resource, remains untapped,” stated Senator Edgardo Angara when introducing Senate Bill No. 3140, the Bioindustry Development Act of 2009.
While pointing out that the Philippine government has invested early on in biotechnology, the senator emphasized that it needs to establish the appropriate policy environment to promote bio industry development.
In 1979, the Philippine government established the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. In the mid-1980s, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) identified biotechnology as a priority investment area and developed the UPLB science park for business development.
The Department of Agriculture organised the Philippine Rice Research Institute, the Philippine Carabao Center and the National Fisheries Research Institute into a network of biotechnology research centres for crops, livestock and aquatic resources, respectively. Still, these investments have not sufficiently fostered the growth of a biotechnology industry.
A brief review of biotechnology patent applications filed with Intellectual Property (IP) Philippines shows that of the 3,404 patent applications filed with and examined by the medical science and biotechnology division under the Patent Cooperation Treaty since 2002, not one was filed by a Filipino.
Out of 23 biotechnology patent applications filed directly with IP Philippines between 2002 and 2007, only two applications, or 8.7 percent, were filed by Filipinos. These data suggest that the country’s biotechnology research and development efforts are producing only a few inventions and/or innovations that are commercially viable for intellectual property protection. There is a need for a more determinative action plan to shape the future of Philippine biotechnology.
The proposed bill aims to enable the country to develop a biotechnology-based industry, specifically by creating a policy environment for the continuing generation and application of biological knowledge, and by promoting the sustainable growth of a biotechnology-based industry.
“The proposed bill aims to enable the country to develop a biotechnology-based industry.”
As defined in the bill, ‘bioindustry’ or ‘biotechnology-based industry’ would include companies involved in the research, development, manufacture and sale of materials such as cell cultures, catalysts, genetic materials, immune response materials, biochemicals, enzymes, proteins, bioactive molecules, genetically engineered organisms and equipment specifically used in biological and genetic research. It would also include service organisations that provide consulting, testing, processing and storage of such products.
A Philippine Bioindustry Research and Development Center will be established to:
- Develop and market competitive, biologically based technologies and products
- Harness Philippine biodiversity in developing competitive products
- Conduct contract research and provide technical services to the public
- Manage a Biotechnology Research Fund, which will support independent research and development, as well as offer a research fellowship and training programme, and
- Establish state-of-the-art facilities for research and study.
The centre will be privatised 10 years after the bill becomes law, or earlier if it becomes profitable within 10 years. Fifteen percent of the shares will be awarded to scientific staff who have been with the centre for more than five years and who have produced at least one patented technology or had eight articles published in the scientific journals cited in the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) Journal Citation Report.
A number of incentives and protective measures will also be granted to venture capitalists:
- A Biotechnology Guarantee Fund will be established to provide a guarantee for venture capital invested in biotechnology companies
- A biotech company will, for a period of five years from the time it is subject to corporate income tax, be allowed to deduct the funds expended in research and development within the country from its taxable income
- Shareholders of new locally based biotechnology companies will be able to claim as a tax credit the amount paid for the shares during the tax year, and
- New shares issued by a biotech company to top executives and technology investors will be excluded from the amount of their consolidated income or corporate income for the current year for taxation purposes.
The bill has been pending for hearing at its committee of origin since April 14, 2009. There is still a long way to go before the bill becomes law and a longer way until it is working effectively.
In the meantime, DOST could re-evaluate the programmes it designed when it identified biotechnology as a priority investment area, and IP Philippines could look into its systems and assess its preparations for a robust bioindustry for IP protection.