Medicinal marvel

Medicinal marvel

CEO OF THE YEAR 2021: Suthira Taychakhoonavudh wants Thailand to be pharmaceutically self sufficient

Best CEO in Medical Science: SUTHIRA TAYCHAKHOONAVUDH, Chief Executive Officer and, co-founder of Baiya Phytopharm
Best CEO in Medical Science: SUTHIRA TAYCHAKHOONAVUDH, Chief Executive Officer and, co-founder of Baiya Phytopharm

In the ongoing battle against Covid-19, Baiya Phytopharm co-founded by Asst Prof Suthira Taychakhoonavudh gives hope for all Thais to have a locally manufactured vaccine against the disease.

Asst Prof Suthira also serves as CEO of Baiya Phytopharm, a start-up company under Chulalongkorn University. As Thailand's first pharmaceutical company that is able to manufacture medicines and vaccines from the very first step of production, Baiya expects to have Covid-19 shots available to the public by the middle of next year.

Baiya Phytopharm was founded in 2019 by Asst Prof Suthira together with Assoc Prof Waranyu Poolcharoen. Asst Prof Suthira is also working as a lecturer at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

A mother of two, Asst Prof Suthira graduated with a bachelor's and master's from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences before doing a PhD at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, in the United States. Her forte is health economics where she looks to ensure people in Thailand have proper access to medicines.

What she realised, however, is that despite the universal coverage programme, a number of patients are still not able to get the medication they require especially when it comes to expensive ones like cancer drugs. Unfortunately, when Thailand is not able to produce these drugs, the only choice is to rely on those imported from other countries which means a painful medical bill -- a burden for patients.

"The government has invested in a number of [pharmaceutical] research programmes which are only put on the shelf instead of putting them into practice," she added. "So I started questioning why it was like that and if we could do something to improve the situation."

With her own and Assoc Prof's Waranyu's money, Asst Prof Suthira decided to found Baiya Phytopharm in 2019. The first company under Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences to have entered the CU Innovation Hub, a platform for start-up companies to grow, Baiya Phytopharm owns technology to manufacture recombinant proteins necessary to make medicines and vaccines.

Simply put, Baiya Phytopharm is a Thai company that can make drugs and vaccines from scratch.

"The company was in operation even before the world knew of Covid-19. We have developed prototypes and scaled up our production constantly. So when the novel coronavirus hit Thailand early last year, we decided to give it a try. We started using our platform to produce vaccines against Covid-19."

Baiya Phyto­pharm also developed the Baiya Rapid Covid-19 test kit using low-nicotine tobacco leaves.

As for the Covid-19 vaccines from Baiya Phyto­pharm, Asst Prof Suthira said after all the trials to ensure their safety, the shots will be made available to the public at cost. The scientist and her team members are also developing a second generation of vaccines to declare war against mutated coronavirus variants.

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