Feb. 01, 2010

The Center for Biotechnology in Asia

Singapore Shows the Way

  • Beh Kian TeikBeh Kian Teik
  • Beh Kian Teik

Singapore presents a strategic location for companies to navigate Asia's diversity and complexities, while harnessing the region's market opportunities, intellectual properties and talent base.

Singapore is an attractive center of excellence in science, research and development. This attractiveness and the ambitions of the Singapore government to become even more attractive is clearly visible in the number and the quality of global companies which chose Singapore for the establishment of research facilities, Asia headquarters and distribution centers. The economical development of Singapore's biotech and healthcare sectors are remarkable. This development seems to be correlated with the governments' investments in research facilities and infrastructure.

BIOforum Europe talked to Mr. Beh Kian Teik, Director, Biomedical Sciences, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB).

Could you please give us a short overview on the development of Singapore's biotech and healthcare industry in the last decade? What are the strategies and visions for Singapore as a location for industry in the biotech and healthcare business?

Beh Kian Teik: Singapore's vision is to be the Biopolis of Asia, a leading international biomedical sciences cluster advancing human health by achieving excellence across the entire value chain. This entails having a strong R&D base to complement Singapore's role as a global manufacturing hub; as medical insights, disease biology, new medicines and novel manufacturing processes are discovered and developed in Singapore's R&D labs & hospitals, new medicines are manufactured in our commercial plants.

In the year 2000, we launched Singapore's Biomedical Sciences (BMS) initiative to establish a focused effort on the development of this sector as the fourth pillar of Singapore's industry cluster, alongside electronics, chemicals and engineering.

The first phase of the BMS initiative (2000-2005) put in place key building blocks by establishing core capabilities in biomedical research, and introducing important human capital and industrial capital development initiatives.

Key initiatives include a S$ 1 billion national scholarship to groom 1,000 PhD graduates in the world's best universities and the Biopolis, which co-locates scientists from the public and private sectors. To date, more than 400 Singaporeans were sent for overseas studies, while the 2.4 million square-feet Biopolis broke ground for its 440,000 square-feet Phase 3 expansion in 2008. During the last six months, Lilly and Abbott officially opened their R&D laboratories in the Biopolis, while Duke Clinical Research Institute announced its collaboration with the Singapore Clinical Research Institute, which will be sited at the Biopolis.

For the next phase (2006-2010), we are building on our scientific foundation and strengthening our capabilities in translational and clinical research to bring discoveries from the bench to the bedside and the marketplace, and ultimately improve human healthcare. Over the past few years, Singapore has invested more than S$ 700 million to build up key infrastructure and capabilities to drive translational and clinical research. They include the Clinical Imaging Research Centre that provides state-of-the-art bioimaging services in collaboration with Siemens; two Investigational Medicine Units that carry out early-phase trials in the National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital; the Cancer Research Centre of Excellence led by Prof Daniel Tenen from Harvard Medical School; as well as the Centre for Translational Medicine that houses a bio-safety facility and brings faculty, students and researchers under one roof. In addition, we have launched the S$ 125 million Translational and Clinical Research Flagship programs that seek to build up our knowledge in Asian disease biology by bringing scientists and clinicians together to work on five key diseases - cancer, neurodengerative diseases, eye diseases, metabolic diseases and infectious diseases.

The biomedical sciences industry is a key segment of our economy and contributes 5.5% of Singapore's GDP, while employing more than 16,000 people in both manufacturing and R&D. Today, we are one of Asia's leading bio-clusters, with the world's leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies setting up a significant presence across the value chain in R&D, manufacturing, regional headquarters and regional clinical coordination.

What are the differences of Singapore's engagement in this sector in comparison to other Asian countries?

Beh Kian Teik: Singapore presents a strategic location for companies to navigate Asia's diversity and complexities, while harnessing the region's market opportunities, intellectual properties and talent base. By providing excellent connectivity to key Asian markets within a seven-hour flight radius, Singapore also presents a transparent and pro-business environment for companies to carry out marketing and supply chain management in the region.
In R&D, Singapore presents strategic partnership opportunities with world-class scientific and medical institutes to help companies carry out through-train drug candidate to proof-of-concept activities. Leveraging our cosmopolitan English-speaking environment and focus on science and technology, leading scientists have settled in Singapore to lead research institutes and laboratories.

This year, as companies come to grips with the economic downturn, we have introduced new initiatives to help companies sustain and grow their talent base, which is integral to drug discovery. These initiatives include the S$ 4.5 billion Jobs Credit scheme that provides grants to reduce the cost of wages, as well as EDB's S$ 100 million PREP-UP training program that enhances the knowledge and skills of research scientists and engineers here. With these measures in place, companies based in Singapore will be well positioned to capture new growth opportunities presented by the next upturn.

Concerning Singapore as a location for academic research. How much Universities and facilities with how many researchers and research groups are located in Singapore? What are they working on, are there focused on special research areas?

Beh Kian Teik: Singapore is one of the world's most prolific research locations with 1.41 papers per 1,000 people (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007). In the public sector, we have established seven biomedical sciences research institutes that cover the field of bioinformatics, bioprocessing, genomics, bioengineering and nanotechnology, medical biology, molecular and cell biology, as well as clinical sciences.

Today, leading scientists are leading our research institutes and corporate R&D labs. They include Axel Ulrich (Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Germany), Philippe Kourilsky (College de France, France), K.C. Nicolau (Skaggs Professor of Chemical Biology and Darlene Shiley Chair in Chemistry, Scripps Research Institute, U.S.) and Alex Matter (Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases).

Researchers from our public-sector research institutes regularly report their findings in prominent publications such as Cell and Nature.

What are the governmental expenses in this field? Are these expenses focused on specific fields of biotech and healthcare research?

Beh Kian Teik: In 2005, the Government has doubled its five-year R&D budget from S$ 6 billion to S$ 13 billion, with the goal of achieving a GERD of 3% of GDP by 2015. In 2007 and 2008, more than S$ 700 million are invested in building up key infrastructure and manpower capabilities to drive translational and clinical research. Besides those mentioned above, we also awarded S$ 180 million to more than 20 scientists and doctors for research projects and further studies overseas under the Singapore Translational Research Investigator Award (STaR) and the Clinician Scientist Award (CSA).

Please describe the infrastructural circumstances in Singapore. The capacities of the airports, streets and ports and the connections to the adjacent countries including the possibilities for the distribution of products in the broader area?

Beh Kian Teik: Singapore is ranked the world's top logistics hub, according to a recent survey conducted amongst global freight forwarders and express carriers who are most active in international trade.

The city-state is strategically located along key shipping lanes, while being centrally located in the Asia Pacific region. Furthermore, it has established a comprehensive network of logistics linkages with key markets in Asia and beyond - PSA Singapore is linked to 600 other ports in 123 countries via over 200 shipping lines; Changi Airport has more than 4,000 flights per week connecting to 60 countries. In addition, both our seaport and airport have consistently received top ratings - while the Port of Singapore has received accolades for being Asia's best container terminal operator (Cargonews Asia, Lloyd), our air infrastructure is ranked the world's best (Global Competitiveness Report).

Today, 21 of the world's top 25 third-party logistics service providers (3PLs) have established significant operations in Singapore, offering high value, integrated supply chain services. To meet the specialized needs of the biomedical sciences industry, 3PLs (e.g. DHL, Panalpina) have set up dedicated facilities for the industry. In 2007, TNT established its largest regional life sciences hub in Singapore, offering cold chain management technology and specialized delivery of pharmaceutical products and diagnostics to end markets in the region within 24 hours.

Leveraging our world-class infrastructure, excellent connectivity with regional and global markets, as well as our capabilities in offering specialized services for the industry, Singapore presents an ideal location for companies to manage and optimize their supply chains in Asia and beyond.





EDB Singapore
250 North Bridge Road
Singapore 179101

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