Nares Damrongchai has been the CEO of the Thailand Center of Excellence for Life Science (TCELS) since its foundation in 2004. After seven years onboard, he discusses the organization’s progress in attracting more biotech investment to Thailand and the challenges he has faced along the way.
[Our mission is] to make Thailand known to the biotech world, to investors, and to create partnerships with universities and companies
Nares Damrongchai, TCELS
Although Thailand is not often considered a regional life sciences research powerhouse, Damrongchai is confident of being able to change this. The mission of his role as CEO is clear: “to make Thailand known to the biotech world, to investors, and to create partnerships with universities and companies.” He views TCELS as a combination of four systems – research, innovation, public health and finance – and hopes to “be able to make the most out of these four different systems and bring more life sciences innovation into the market.”
In order to kick-start the development of Thai innovation in the life sciences, TCELS has drawn heavily on regional alliances with the likes of Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, three of Asia’s most forward-thinking economies. Rather than viewing them as competitors, Damrongchai has been keen to create partnerships with these regions and their advanced research ecosystems, as well as benchmark Thai progress against them. “I have set up a team to define indicators for life science progress and we will be ready to launch it sometime soon,” he notes. “It would be the first time that Thailand has had real indicators to specifically measure life sciences. We could measure how much we, as an organization, are progressing as a life science centre.”
This internationalization extends to a greater presence at global conferences, spreading the word about Thailand and its potential. “TCELS has been participating non-stop in the BIO International Convention since the beginning,” he exclaims. “We are expanding, and we want to bring the best of our companies, people, startups, and universities, together. This year in Philadelphia, our pavilion had the biggest and best delegates (64 people from Thailand were there), all kept busy with the conference, startup pitches, and partnering systems. We are still following up with all the matching deals, but I estimate the value to be close to 900 million baht (USD 29.3 million).”
Damrongchai does, however, acknowledge that the road towards fostering greater innovation in Thailand will be long and not necessarily easy. “We will become a regional player at some point, but we are not rushing too much,” he cautions. “We are building up our people, depending less on the outside, but happy to create partnerships internationally. I always look towards the end goal, which is sustainable growth, fair and equitable access and a lively economy.”