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Kazakhstan — one of Central Asia's former Soviet republics — is eager to build a biotechnology industry, but it faces formidable challenges.

Kazakh researchers must make do with Soviet-era equipment. And the Stepnogorsk technopark set up in 2002 to push biotechnology has little to show for the large amounts of funding it has received.

In this article, Richard Stone profiles the man who could change all this. Erlan Ramanculov, a Kazakhstan-born biologist who studied and worked in the United States for more than ten years, is now a senior virus researcher.

Ramanculov returned home in 2004, and this year got his chance to make a difference. In February, he was given US$50 million to build a national biotechnology programme. 

Ramanculov will head the Life Science and Biotech Center of Excellence, supported in part by the World Bank, with a flagship research arm to be built in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Backed by the country's deputy science minister Azamat Abdimomunov, he has set to work on a sweeping agenda to raise standards among Kazakh scientists, and bring in talent from abroad.

Ramanculov is known as a risk taker — which, given the size of the challenge, says Stone, could be just what the nation needs to pursue its biotechnology ambitions.

Link to full article in Science