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VOL. 127 | NO. 99 | Monday, May 21, 2012

Montoya Speech Highlights Biotech Trade Opportunities

By Aisling Maki

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With an emerging economy and expanding middle class, the Philippines – the honored nation of this year’s Memphis in May International Festival – is experiencing a growing demand for biotechnology products. That demand is creating business opportunities for Mid-South life science companies seeking a market presence in the Southeast Asian country known as the “Pearl of the Orient.”

“The Asia-Pacific is expected to become a major destination for stem cell research and biogenetic manufacturing,” said Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development.

Montoya is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of infectious disease and public health. He addressed members of Memphis’ health care, business and government sectors Friday, May 18, as the featured speaker at a breakfast co-hosted by Memphis Bioworks Business Association, Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis in May.

The event, held at the University Club, 1346 Central Ave., was one of several business exchange activities between Memphis and the Philippines associated with Memphis in May. Montoya, who also is a professor of Infectious Disease at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, has extensive experience in implementing programs to control the spread of tuberculosis and other emerging infections, including the 2003 SARS epidemic.

“Infectious disease is one of the medical arenas in which Memphis is making a meaningful and lasting scientific mark,” said Regina Whitley, executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Business Association, which works to advance the bioscience industry in the Memphis region through education, advocacy and professional networking.

“One of the goals of Memphis in May, outside of the entertainment offerings, is to create a professional business exchange. We’re proud to be able to play our part in that exchange with the Philippines by hosting Dr. Montoya.”

A member of the Country Coordinating Mechanism for the Global fund for AIDS, TB and malaria, Montoya also formed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Network for Drugs, Diagnostics and Vaccines Innovation, and serves as the Philippines’ focal person for biotechnology for ASEAN.

Like other developing nations, the Philippines face a host of serious health care challenges, including growing instances of communicable and chronic diseases. But Montoya said the keys to treating illness and pain could potentially lie in the rich marine biodiversity surrounding the more than 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines.

Montoya said scientists with the Philippine PharmaSeas Drug Discovery Program are currently “mining the seas for possible drug candidates,” to treat pain and infection.

Other areas of life science research in the Philippines currently include genomics studies to determine the population’s genetic susceptibility to diseases and oncology research that utilizes antibody technology sourced from the nation’s diverse marine and terrestrial resources.

Montoya said the Philippines’ core strategy for tackling his nation’s health issues and meeting its growing demand for health care products is to increase public-private partnerships, which is where opportunities for Memphis’ bioscience industry lie.

“I’d like to thank you all for giving me this wonderful opportunity to talk to you today,” Montoya told the crowd. “I hope I was able to stimulate you to show interest in the booming life sciences sector in the Philippines. ‘Maraming salamat po’ (thank you very much).”

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