Under its development target of becoming an international healthcare and medical hub by 2036, Thailand is currently aiming to reach the next level of medical and wellness services by promoting precision medicine for the treatment of more complex illnesses, such as cancer and genetic-related diseases.

The action plan focuses on improving R&D and skill training technology, with the local medical device industry also expected to benefit from the cutting-edge innovations and R&D facilities in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) which covers the three provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi and Rayong in the country’s Eastern Region. As Thailand’s pilot industry 4.0 special economic zone, the EEC provides support for all of the country’s target high-tech industries with facilities that promote the whole R&D and innovation development process, including the Startup and Innovation Center, National Quality Infrastructure and Translational Research Infrastructure.

One project that is fundamental to this plan calls for the Public Health Ministry to establish the Thailand Genome Sequencing Center1 in the EEC as a facility to provide clinical services for patients from across Southeast Asia and beyond. The planned genome sequencing center2 will be located at Burapha University in Chonburi province, with the laboratory space occupying approximately 1,700 square metres. Genome sequencing of 50,000 Thais will be conducted at the lab and their DNA data will be used to build a genomics library under the supervision of the Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI)3. The first of its kind in ASEAN, the genomics library will utilise the database to enable more effective development of pharmaceutical and healthcare products.

Of the required investment budget of US$50 million, half is expected to be financed by the Thai government with the rest to come from local and foreign investors. Leading local hospitals and companies have shown interest in partnering with multinational companies to create a consortium to run the lab. The HSRI and EEC Office is in the process of implementing the bidding procedure.

The Excellence Center for Genomics and Precision Medicine at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital has provided assurances that it could support and strengthen the whole genome sequencing project. On top of that, the BOI and the EEC office have provided tax and non-tax incentives to foreign businesses and experts to work in the EEC.

Wangchan Valley, a smart city project in Rayong province is another supporting facility in the EEC. Developed as a base for research, development and innovation, Wangchan Valley’s mission also includes operating the Kamnoetvidya Science Academy4 which offers world-class education in science, mathematics and technology through scholarships for students in years 10, 11 and 12, to prepare the talents required for the high-tech industries in the EEC and across the country.

In a related development, Thammasat University5 has confirmed its plan to develop a Total Digital Healthcare Solution at its Pattaya campus in Chonburi province. Aiming to enhance Thailand’s competitiveness in becoming the regional medical hub, the facility will include excellence centres in medical services, digital hospitals, an integrated research centre and community-based healthcare solutions. Under the EECmd Vision 2024, the EEC aims to promote knowledge sharing and networking with local and international institutes to enhance the skills of healthcare researchers and personnel as well as to push forward innovation for precision medicine and medical devices.

With a focus on healthtech, state-owned Mahidol University has introduced Salaya Startup Town which houses a comprehensive ecosystem of lab and R&D space for engineering, biotechnology and healthcare technology. The project supports startups and technology incubation by providing working space for engineering innovations and advanced medical robotics as well as its Center for Biomedical and Robotics Technology6, HealthCare Logistics Big Data, UN Innovations Lab and Center of Logistics, Management and Healthcare Supply Chain.

In the capital city of Bangkok, around 20 medical academic institutions and research houses have signed an agreement to strengthen their collaboration on research and human clinical trials under the “Multicenter Medical Innovation Clinical Trial” project. The institutions which have formed a network called “the Yothi Medical Innovation District” have worked together on the development of medical devices such as a portable chest x-ray and its application for patients with non-communicable diseases.