Bangladesh Needs R&D on Her Journey to Economic Development

Farid Ahmad

15 July, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Bangladesh Needs R&D on Her

Journey to Economic Development

Farid Ahmad

If a person truly loves his country, he finds pleasure in promoting its good. If he is not competent enough to serve his country essentially or able to do anything for its good, as a true patriot the person at least will be filled with gushing enthusiasm hearing positive news or success stories about his country out of affection towards his country.

‘Amader Deshe Hobe Shei Chele Kobe, Kothai Na Boro Hoye, Kaje Boro Hobe’, the first two lines of Kusumkumari Das’s poem ‘Adarsha Chele’ that have been recited occasionally with great feeling when a favorable opportunity comes.

Very recently, Dr Asif Mahmud, the very first young person (Amader Deshi Chele) and head of Research and Development (R&D) at Globe Biotech Limited (GBL), a company from Bangladesh, has claimed achieving success in the primary trial of a vaccine that his company is developing for Covid-19. He said that the vaccine showed positive results in animal trial. He hopes it will work for humans also. GBL Chairman commented that importing coronavirus vaccines from abroad would likely be very expensive, whenever its innovation happens. Therefore, they are targeting to produce anaffordable Covid-19 vaccine for our people. The chairman solicited utmost assistance from Government for the development of the vaccine.

Covid-19 is a crisis. It is dominating the world ominously. All the people under these circumstances must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal? No one knows exactly how long it will take to stop the disease's spread from person to person. It is hard to calculate and forecast the true impact of Covid-19, as the outbreak is still ongoing.

Normal life can resume immediately if a perfect vaccine becomes available in the market. Many companies and academic institutions are racing to make a Covid-19 vaccine. According to different publications, almost 200 companies in the world are working on developing a vaccine. Our neighbouring country India has also announced about its invention of Covid-19 vaccine.

There is some 7 billion vaccine demand in the world at present. The concerned scientists opined that only 1.2 billion could be manufactured in the existing infrastructure. In these circumstances, the news of developing a vaccine by our country with less opportunity and support for such kind of research works can be called serendipity. And the news has surely become the source of pleasure and blessedness for a patriot.

However, manufacturing a vaccine is a complex journey – really a herculean endeavour. Most of the vaccines we rely on today took 5-15 years to become perfect. Researchers take a very long time to make sure it is just right to pump into the arms of hundreds of millions – possibly billions – of people.  

During the earliest days of Covid-19 crisis, Anthony Fauci, the White House’s topmost coronavirus expert and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that at the best-case scenario, a Covid-19 vaccine could be ready within a year to 18 months. Since then we all are oscillating between hope and despair. Nothing is certain – whether one or more effective vaccines will be ready for wide deployment by early 2021 or not. We want to remain optimistic about these efforts.

It does not matter whether GBL’s vaccine will be a successful one or not. But the Bangladeshi scientists’ initiatives and efforts in developing a Covid-19 vaccine; their participation in the global race for the prevention of the disease that has turned world’s population daily life topsy-turvy are muchappreciated works and will always be praised by the population of Bangladesh. Hopefully, government will provide all necessary assistance if they require.

Scientists in different parts of the world are grappling desperately to speed up the work to develop a perfect vaccine. We hope that GBL is carrying out the research by maintaining standard procedures and it would be scientifically accepted by the concerned authorities in near future. The courage and performance that this local company has shown will be acclaimed by the international community. Simultaneously, we should be ready to accept any sort of failure. If it does not succeed, we can just be cheerleaders, which is also wonderful. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Thakur wrote in one of his poems: ‘You cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.’

What lies at the center of these bustling activities in developing a new vaccine? It is definitely Research and Development (R&D) activity. In February 2012 , former American President Barack Obama said, ‘We need to build a future in which our factories and workers are busy manufacturing the high-tech products that will define the century… Doing that starts with continuing investment in the basic science and engineering research and technology development from which new products, new businesses, and even new industries are formed.’ From his statement it seems obvious that if a country aspires to be a prosperous country by participating in the beneficial international trade based sustainable economic growth strategy, she should have a number of her own global corporations.Therefore, we shall have to come up with the "wow" products that will draw the attention of global customers. At least, Bangladesh needs to adopt a "make-some-and-buy-some high-tech products" strategy for her sustainable economic development. Instead, we are wholly dependent on technologies or inventions by other countries.

The generation of technology up to the industrial age was primarily craftsman based. A highly organised, developed, and competitive R&D is now the major initiator of the generation of the same. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines R&D (Research and Development) as the creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new application.

Businesses and industries that perform R&D exhibit a greater likelihood of innovations. Countries have been able to become developed countriesintegrating R&D activities in their journey to economic development. Both public and private funding in basic and applied R&D is imperative to create a knowledge base of potentially transformative ideas that are critical building blocks of innovation. Public funding is also essential to sustaining the excellence of public research institutions that can play a significant role in country’s innovation system. Government funded academic R&D is instrumental in creating and sustaining a world-class higher education system that prepares the next generation of scientists, engineers, researchers, faculty, and graduates.

Total national investment in R&D may include investments by government, public sector, private sector, colleges, universities, and the business and non-profit sectors. This investment as a whole significantly contributes to the flow of market-based innovations. R&D and other intangible investments such as investments in software, higher education, and worker training are key inputs driving innovation.

Factors such as Public policies, including monetary policy, tax policy, standards, procurement, regulatory policy; Investment in R&D; Skilled technical workforce availability, and Market Access are important in establishing an environment that fosters innovation. Amid this precarious situation caused by Corona Pandemic, in our country’s economic trajectory, careful consideration of our portfolio of innovation policies, including R&D investment practices and public policy, is needed to foster national prosperity and to increase national access to the global economy.Performing R&D may be helpful to solve the country’s present health crisis, education or finance problems.

A Nation’s economic growth depends on its capacity to educate, innovate, and build. Long-term national investments in basic and applied R&D will play a vivid role in the flow of market-based innovations through a complex system that leverages the combined talents of scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs, business managers and industrialists. These funds will lead to everything from small and medium entrepreneurial initiatives to growth in high technology industries with the concomitant employment of millions of workers. Mutually reinforcing and complementary investments in R&D by both private and public sectors work hand in glove to support the development, production, and commercialisation of new products and processes.

Government should give account to building infrastructures for R&D. It should create a system that encourages innovation. It should encourage private sector companies to invest in research. Government can be the pivot of the research that will allow the country to stay on the leading edge of technology. The proper role for government is to create an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes for country's sustainable economic development.


The author is Assistant Professor, Institute of Appropriate Technology, BUET and Reviewer, Advances in Economics and Business, HRPUB, USA. He acknowledges different sources of information with gratitude.