KUALA LUMPUR: The National Vaccine Development Roadmap, which is being finalised, is seen as the stepping stone to Malaysia joining the league of vaccine-producing nations of the world. However, Malaysia must have the determination and commitment to see the project through and not give it up halfway, an expert said.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Environmental Health Cluster senior lecturer Dr Nurul Yuziana Mohd Yusof told Bernama she hoped Malaysia will realise its aspirations of becoming a vaccine producer.

“We don’t want a project for which there is much enthusiasm in the beginning but abandoned halfway without clear justification, as was the case with previous government projects,” she said, pointing to the BioValley Project and Nine Bio Sdn Bhd as examples of government ventures that were discontinued.

BioValley was proposed by the government about 20 years ago to serve as a dedicated zone for biotechnology industries in Malaysia while Nine Bio Sdn Bhd was set up to conduct research and development on halal vaccines.

“When these projects didn’t take off, the authorities concerned didn’t make any effort to identify the problems or reason why they failed,” said Nurul Yuziana, who is attached to UKM’s Department of Earth Science and Environment in the Faculty of Science and Technology.

During the tabling of the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025) on Monday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had said that the National Vaccine Development Roadmap is being finalised to ensure Malaysia has the capacity to produce its own vaccine.

He said the roadmap will also prepare the country to face any pandemic in the future. He also said that next year the government will develop the Malaysian Institute of Infectious Diseases in Bandar Enstek, Negeri Sembilan. The aim of this institute is to reduce the number of cases, as well as prevent morbidity and mortality, in the event of an outbreak of an infectious disease.

Nurul Yuziana said to ensure the success of its vaccine development plan, Malaysia should take realistic steps that are in line with the true capability and capacity of its biomedical and biotechnology fields.

She said it is important to carefully identify existing requirements as well as what will be needed later on to ensure that the vaccine development process is an ongoing one and not just a one-off project.

Among the factors that require emphasis in vaccine development are more specific research and development activities on the vaccine concerned.

This, she added, is important to ensure the continuity of vaccine development at the large-scale production stage which can be done in collaboration with research institutes, medical experts and the pharmaceutical industry in order to speed up and strengthen the clinical trial process of the vaccine concerned.

“For this, the authorities should not rely on theory alone and would need to collaborate closely with experts from upstream and downstream technical fields,” she said, adding that Malaysia may also have to import technical expertise from abroad to train local experts.

Nurul Yuziana also said that local experts in various fields, including industrial biotechnology, biotechnology management, engineering, physics and chemistry, will have to undergo specific training to ensure the continuity of the vaccine development plan.

Commenting on the establishment of the Malaysian Institute of Infectious Diseases, the head of Universiti Teknologi Mara Sungai Buloh’s Infectious Diseases Unit Dr Rosnida Mohd Noh said the proposal was the right step towards addressing infectious diseases effectively.

“Many other countries have set up similar institutes a long time ago. The institute serves the function of monitoring and helping to meet the challenges posed by emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, including novel viruses that can cause epidemics.

“The institute will also enhance the nation’s capacity to improve its policies and strategies to control and prevent the spread of communicable diseases,” she added.