Genomics technology: A path to a healthier Indonesia
Genomics sequencing in Indonesia’s healthcare sector has greatly improved since the COVID-19 pandemic, although it is still in the early stage in this country.
Due to the pandemic, Indonesia has identified around 40,000 sequences of the virus or pathogen – the most extensive so far – a great starting point for genomics implementation in the healthcare sector in Indonesia.
Genomics has become one of the focal points of Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, particularly after it launched the Biomedical and Genome Science Initiative (BGSi) in August. Not only supporting the launch of BGSi, East Ventures, the pioneering and leading venture capital firm in Indonesia since 2009, has stated our strong support to advance Indonesia’s healthcare sector, including genomics sequencing and technology.
This statement came from Willson Cuaca, East Ventures’ Co-Founder and Managing Partner, during a discussion session “Genomics Technology: A Path to a Healthier Indonesia” – at the launch of a white paper “Genomics: Leapfrogging into the Indonesian healthcare future” on 16 February 2023.
Joined with other speakers are Dr. L. Rizka Andalucia, Director General of Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices of the Ministry of Health of The Republic of Indonesia; Fatma Aldila, Senior Clinical Research Associate of Nalagenetics; Sharlini Eriza Putri, Co-Founder and CEO of Nusantics; and Dr. Neni Nurainy, Head of Transnational Development of Biopharmaceutical Products at PT Bio Farma. The session was moderated by Roshan Raj, Partner at Redseer Strategy Consultants.
Through genomic sequencing, researchers can conduct genomic research and investigate gene variations associated with particular diseases or health conditions in Indonesia. This becomes crucial to promote healthcare innovation in public and private sectors that can breed new healthtech startups.
However, it does not come without obstacles. Dr. Neni revealed that a wide gap exists between innovation and commercialization. The duration of the discovery to commercialization stage might take 8 to 12 years, and this includes vaccine and drug discovery.
This is why genomics can accelerate diagnostic, vaccine, and drug development to ensure the products are marketed at the right time to sustain their impact.
“With the vast development in every industry, the time has become compressed – things are becoming even faster. A fund that is ‘patient’ is required. East Ventures understands this problem. Hence we are preparing a dedicated fund that can ‘wait patiently’ to support the healthcare sector for a long way. This is to ensure all researchers can do their work, commercialize their IP and production in the long term,” said Willson.
The government also plays a pivotal role in accelerating this mission. The BGSi initiative was conceived for Indonesians to leapfrog into the era of precision medicine. For this purpose, BGSi provides genomics and clinical data and invites healthcare startups, professionals, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies to join them, claimed Dr. Rizka.
Sharlini also believes that genomics poses an enormous chance for Indonesia on the map of the blockbuster drugs business as we have the two most powerful ingredients of this formula.
“First, Indonesia is one of the countries with the highest genetic diversity globally. Second, the country has a huge population and rising middle class – which means we can pass the minimum critical mass for any pharmaceutical company to become a global pharmaceutical company,” said Sharlini.
“Today, we face multiple planetary crises: climate change, pollution, and many others. We cannot continue to rely on ‘magical’ discoveries and medicines. Genomics becomes the key to discovering new biomarkers and developing breakthrough diagnostics while learning how to manage the disease better. This is what we do in Nusantics,” she continued.
Meanwhile, Nalagenetics is cooking on the development of its risk prediction tests. It presents challenges such as the diverse ethnicities of the Indonesian population, unclear regulatory requirements, and lack of incentives.
“Once you have accurate risk calculations based on Indonesian ethnicities or populations, we need mass recruitment for the study population. But this is not an easy job. Without a study grant, for example, we have to invest a huge number of resources, financially and non-financially. It is also quite challenging due to concerns over data security. I think people are getting more concerned over this,” said Fatma.
“All good researchers and entrepreneurs deserve the same opportunity to develop what they want to do. Hopefully, with a broader ecosystem: with Bio Farma, other researchers, and even the government, we have the complete stakeholders that hold together to do something for the large population of Indonesia,” closed Willson.