RM200 mln SIDC project begins in earnest

Manyin delivers his speech at the earth-breaking ceremony. Photo: UKAS

KUCHING: Sarawak’s dream of having its own infectious disease centre to better prepare for the eventuality of future pandemics is coming true.

Caretaker Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony for the RM200 million project on Tuesday (Nov 16).

The Sarawak Infectious Disease Centre (SIDC) is expected to be fully operational by 2024.

It is conceptualised to be a research facility of the Sarawak Research and Development Council (SRDC), said Education, Science and Technological Research Minister Datuk Amar Michael Manyin Jawong.

“The centre’s goals are to improve research in infectious disease, equip Sarawak with the capability and capacity to test medication, vaccines and equipment against infectious agents and enable Sarawak to detect, diagnose and predict potential infectious disease outbreak,” he said.

“It will also complement and collaborate with the Ministry of Health in tackling infectious diseases in Sarawak.

“The centre will be equipped with Bio-Safety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratories to allow research and development on BSL-3 infectious agents, and subsequently product testing to ensure commercialisation of R&D output,” he added. 

Manyin also said Biosafety level (BSL) referred to biocontainment precautions required to isolate dangerous biological agents in an enclosed laboratory facility.

“The levels of containment range from the lowest biosafety Level 1 (BSL-1) to the highest at Level 4 (BSL-4).

Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) is the highest level of biosafety precautions, and Biosafety Level 4 laboratories are used for diagnostic work and research on easily transmitted pathogens which can cause fatal disease.

“These include viruses such as Marburg virus and Ebola virus. There are, currently about 59 BSL-4 worldwide, including in Singapore, but none in Malaysia,” he said.

Manyin explained that SIDC would be a Biosafety Level 3 facility and that such facilities were commonly used for research and diagnostic work involving microorganisms which could be transmitted by aerosols and/or cause severe diseases.

“These include Mycobacterium tuberculosis, SARS-CoV-1, MERS-CoV, chikungunya, yellow fever virus, West Nile virus and SARS-CoV-2.

“There are three such laboratories in Malaysia, and a number of mobiles ones, one of which is at the Sarawak Heart Centre, and is heavily used for current Covid-19 screening. This lab was donated by a consortium of private companies last year,” he said.

“The ground-breaking ceremony today is the start of the construction of the first fully BSL-3 integrated research facility in Sarawak, in our preparation for future pandemics.

“The SIDC will focus on two core themes — developing the capacity and knowledge to respond to future pandemics and emerging threats through human capital development and impactful research and translating biomedical research into applications such as diagnostics tools, treatments and vaccines.”

Manyin also said the state envisaged the centre to bring together talents regionally and internationally and attract global biomedical companies to ensure Sarawak was prepared for future challenges.

“The idea for this centre was first mooted in late December 2020. Subsequently, the Chief Minister announced that Sarawak would be establishing a research centre for infectious diseases, known as the Sarawak Infectious Disease Centre (SIDC) in 2021.

“And since then, the SRDC and the ministry have worked hard to ensure the vision of the Chief Minister becomes a reality by 2024,” he disclosed at the function streamed live by Ukas here.

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