21 Mar 2013 Prof Ong Kok Hai Awarded the Honorary Member of Malaysian Invention and Design Society (MINDS)
The Director of External Affairs of IMU—Prof Ong Kok Hai, has been appointed as an Honorary Member of Malaysian Invention and Design Society (MINDS) and also awarded as one of the ‘Notable Malaysian Inventors’ recently. IMU congratulates Prof Ong on this outstanding achievement.
The award will be presented to Prof Ong on 27 April 2013 at a Gala Dinner themed ‘A Night of Appreciation’ at The Royal Selangor Club, Kuala Lumpur as the grand finale of its Silver Jubilee Celebration. This Gala Dinner focuses on recognition of its members who have supported the Society for the past 25 years. Guests of honour include His Royal Highness the Raja Muda Perak, Raja Nazrin Shah as well as YABhg Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, Ybhg Datuk Jimmy Choo and the inventors of USB flash drive, Mr Pua Khein Seng.
Prof Ong’s success started when he was seconded to help start the University Science Malaysia (USM) medical School in 1979. It was in USM that Prof Ong became interested in typhoid research. Typhoid is a life-threatening bacterial disease spread through consuming contaminated food or water, and affects more than 21.5 million people yearly with around 600,000 deaths. Those infected can suffer intestinal bleeding and go into endotoxic shock.
Doctors were unable to start on definitive treatment immediately, and it allowed the disease a head start to develop and spread by those infected (of whom 5-10 percent recover to become carriers). The government then launched the Intensification of Research in Priority Areas (IRPA) Programme in 1988 to provide grants for R&D in priority areas. With the funds for equipment and full time scientists from the programme, USM assembled a team in 1989 to find a protein specific to typhoid and which can therefore be used to create a rapid antibody test. It was not an easy task, as the test involves using an enzyme that has to be kept ‘alive’ and active and the test itself must be simple and ‘idiot proof’. The team, which included Professor Asma Ismail and Assoc Prof Dr Zainoodin S.A. Kader, worked for two years before discovering a possible marker protein, and another three years that included clinical trials before the test before the test kit was finally ready for commercialisation. The test, which is sensitive, specific, easy to perform and which requires no special equipment or training for interpretation of results, marked the first breakthrough in typhoid test in a hundred years.
The product won a gold medal in a MINDS exhibition in Penang, and in 1995 Prof Ong was approached by the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC) to commercialise it. With MTDC as partner, he started Malaysian Bio-Diagnostic Research Sdn Bhd to develop and market medical diagnostic products, and commercialised the test kit as TYPHIDOT™. Total sales of TYPHIDOT have exceeded RM10 million, and although the patent is owned by USM, the royalty is rightly shared between the scientist and university.