Professor Dr Mohd Hair Bejo
Professor Dr Mohd Hair Bejo, 58, is one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of veterinary and avian pathology, as well as animal biotechnology and vaccinology. In a career that has spanned more than 26 years, he has contributed significantly to the scientific community especially with regards to avian vaccination. Dr Hair-Bejo was the first researcher in the country to diagnose Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) (also known as Gumboro disease) virus and Fowl Adenovirus (FAdV) or Inclusion Body Hepatitis (IBH) outbreaks in commercial chickens in 1991 and 2005 respectively, which led to the development of vaccine MyVAC UPM93 and MyHatch IBD. Through his research, Dr Hair-Bejo has contributed to the development and improvement of sustainable poultry farming in Malaysia, and transformed it into an exemplary model for the nation’s livestock industry. Dr Hair-Bejo currently serves as the Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).
Professor Dr Mohd Hair Bejo was born on 1 May 1960 in Muar, Johor. From a young age, he was already inspired to take up the mantle of veterinarian. After earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Universiti Putra Malaysia in 1985, he was offered the opportunity to further his education in this field at the University of Liverpool, England. In 1990, he obtained his PhD in Veterinary Pathology and the following year, was appointed as a lecturer of Veterinary Pathology at the Department of Veterinary Pathology and Microbiology at UPM’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. During his early years as an academician, Dr Hair-Bejo played a key role in strengthening the nation’s poultry industry. He was the first researcher to diagnose the first case of Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) or Gumboro disease outbreak in Malaysia
“There was an incident during the early days of my practice as a pathologist. We called it Infectious Bursal Disease or Gumboro disease – it was the first one in Malaysia,” recalled Dr Hair-Bejo. The chickens affected by Gumboro disease suffered from a high mortality rate due to a severely reduced immune system. The success of the project and its enormous implications for Malaysia’s economy, moved Dr Hair-Bejo to narrow his focus to avian pathology which he did so by undergoing post-doctoral training at the University of Georgia, Athens, in the United States in 1993.
“I really appreciate the fact that I was given the opportunity [to work on this Gumboro project]. I did my best and Alhamdullilah, you can see the effects today,” said Dr Hair-Bejo proudly.
Dr Hair-Bejo’s passion to pursue graduate studies in veterinary pathology was due to his interest in addressing the root causes of diseases in animals. “I was already working as veterinarian in animal clinic before I persuaded my postgraduate degree,” he recalled. “I did practice medicine and surgery to companion animals especially dogs, cats and pet animals. The incident with the Gumboro disease outbreak further strengthened my resolve to put my knowledge and skills to good use for the benefit of the country.”
Following his return to Malaysia after completing his PhD programme, Dr Hair-Bejo resumed teaching, research and professional services at UPM. In 1999, UPM decided that his talents deserved recognition and Dr Hair-Bejo was promoted to Associate Professor. In 2002, he was offered the position of Deputy Dean (Research and Post-graduate Studies) at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine which allowed him a greater opportunity to supervise and lead research teams. In 2007, he was appointed as a full Professor of Universiti Putra Malaysia. As a result of his in-depth knowledge of the subject and his many years of experience, Dr Hair-Bejo is now regarded as one of Malaysia’s foremost experts in veterinary pathology. Under his supervision 46 PhD and 44 Masters was successfully graduated. He was awarded International Project Grant amounting USD2.6 million and national research grant up to RM5.4 million as Principal Investigator. Throughout his career, Dr Hair-Bejo has never wavered from his commitment to put his knowledge to use for the public good and is thankfulness the opportunities to do so.
From the day of his return to Malaysia after completing his doctoral studies, Dr Hair-Bejo has been working tirelessly to improve Malaysia’s poultry farming industry. The diagnosis of the first IBD virus case in 1991 was merely the first of many accomplishments he achieved throughout his career.
In 2005, he was successfully developed and commercialised a safe and effective MyVAC UPM93 IBD vaccine. Dr Hair-Bejo and his team had been studying the virus for some time and conducting field trials in commercial broiler farms in Johor, Selangor and Perak. Under his supervision, Dr Hair-Bejo’s team used laboratory and field studies to demonstrate that the vaccine was safe and effective in controlling the disease.
“We were very concerned about the impact of the disease. The poultry industry is one of the biggest in Malaysia, so if we could not control the disease, the effects on the industry would be catastrophic. Furthermore, at that time, there was no specific vaccine for this new strain of virus. Hence, we needed to come up with a very good strategies to control and prevent the spread
of the virus,” said Dr Hair-Bejo.
The successful result of Dr Hair-Bejo’s works led to the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry officially adopting MyVAC UPM93 and MyHatch UPM93 IBD for commercialisation. The vaccines are currently available in Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar markets and in the process of registration in Indonesia, Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Philippines and Thailand, a testament to its effectiveness and economic significance. The poultry industry in Malaysia has also grown significantly at about 5.95% annually since the years 2000 - thanks to Dr Hair-Bejo’s work.
In 2017, Dr Hair-Bejo’s research was recognised internationally with the presentation of the WVPA-Merial Innovation in Vaccination Award by the World Veterinary Poultry Association (WVPA). “It meant a lot to me,” commented Dr Hair-Bejo on his winning the award. “It was also very encouraging for my research team and other researchers as well because it was a form of recognition and appreciation for what we have accomplished.”
We started out with ideas and then turned those ideas or invention into innovation. That award was particularly significant because it was an international recognition. To me, winning an award is simply another opportunity to grow, excel and contribute. It’s more of a credit to one’s hard work rather than something to strive for.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Dr Hair-Bejo is currently working on researching and developing new generation of vaccines that would further improve the health and quality of Malaysia’s poultry and the society. In addition, he is also very keen on exploring the use of green technology and nanotechnology for the production of safer and healthier poultry.
He has encountered a major breakthrough in the use of cationic liposomes using nanotechnology to enhance vaccine delivery and in the application of anolytes (electrolytes) using green technology.
To date, he has at least seven research products in the process of commercialisation while at the same time, he is also actively involved in developing bacterial vaccines for Salmonellosis, Avian Pathogenic E. Coli Infection and Fowl Cholera. The use of these vaccines will minimise the use or abuse use of antibiotics in the poultry industry which definitely reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), an emerging global health treats.
An avid contributor to scientific literature, Dr Hair-Bejo has published 200 papers in refereed journals, five articles as chapters in books, 350 in proceedings, 210 in other forms of publications international and nationally. He has Scopus h-index 19 and 10 Intellectual Property including seven patents, one trade mark, one copyright and one trade secret. He has presented his work in conferences all over the world, in places as far away as the United Kingdom, USA, Japan and France, to regional summits in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. He is also a member of the peer review board for the Malaysian Journal of Microscopy, the Journal of Veterinary Malaysia, the Malaysian Journal of Animal Science and the Journal of Tropical Agricultural Science.
“I enjoy what I do and I really appreciate what I can do as an academician. In life, there are so many challenges, but what is most important is how we respond and adapt to those challenges. Challenges are opportunities and we should strive to excel in every challenge in order to be more successful in our life.”
“To be excellent, we have to do our best. This is something that is very important. Usually, when we do our best, the outcome will also be the best. Think positive, look for opportunities not challenges, and then make sure we do our very best.”
Message for young Malaysians
“When you begin to do research, the important thing is to look for what comes after, your contribution to society. No matter what sort of research you plan to do, look towards solving the problems of society.”