BUILDING THE BUTTRESSING BLOCKS
It is precisely Singapore's ability to fill in the blanks of global demand that enables it to consistently evolve and convert
conventional disadvantages—size to agility, inexperience to enterprise—in order to designate itself as a hub for you-name-it.
In order to make biomedical sciences the fourth pillar of the economy (after electronics, engineering and chemicals), Singapore
needed to solve two problems: Make the island a prime location for manufacturing in order to lure more multinationals (MNCs)
and build infrastructure to enhance R&D capabilities. That meant increasing hospitals' and universities' capabilities to conduct
translational clinical research as well as acquiring both homegrown and recruited talent. The solution—the Biomedical Science
Initiative (BMS Initiative)—developed in 2000 with the goal of creating a sustainable biomedical sciences industry.
Swee Yeok Chu, President & CEO EDBI - Economic Development Board Investments
The trilogy of the government organizations responsible for creating the BMS– The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB),
which attracts investment into Singapore; EDB Investments (EDBI), the strategic corporate investment arm, and Agency for Science,
Technology and Research, A*STAR, which promotes local research and talent– all insist that their commitment is unyielding
and that the initiative is on track.
From 2011 to 2015, the government has committed SGD 16.1 billion (USD 13.2 billion) to R&D, of which about 40 percent has
been allocated to biomedical sciences—a 12 percent increase from the previous budget allocation, explains Benjamin Seet, executive
director of the Biomedical Research Council of A*STAR.
This four-year span is considered the third phase of the initiative, which consists of working with the industry to generate
improved economic outcomes.
Benjamin Seet, Executive Director, Biomedical Research Council (A*Star)
The biomedical sciences manufacturing output has already increased four-fold from SGD 6 billion per year (USD 5 billion) in
2000 to SGD 27 billion (USD 22 billion) in 2011. Furthermore, 22 percent of the total manufacturing value-added is derived
from biomedical sciences.
In order to keep the momentum, the EDB is continuing to pursue their "Host to Home" strategy, which aims for Singapore to
become companies' home in Asia, rather than just being a host. After laying the groundwork for many "firsts", Bio*One, (the
government's biomedical sciences investment division), is harnessing recent success in the medical technologies industry.
Its past achievements include establishing S*BIO, Singapore's first private R&D company, and Maccine, the first preclinical
company in Singapore.
Completing the trilogy is A*STAR. In addition to developing indigenous talent with a full "pipeline that extends as far into
the future as 2022," A*STAR has enacted a Master Research Collaboration Agreement (MCRA) that has been signed by companies
like Roche and GE Healthcare.
James Kaw, Director Singapore Innovation Center (P&G)
The dynamic of what Seet describes as MNCs moving "towards open innovation and leveraging on public sector research rather
than developing everything in-house," will provide opportunities for collaboration. The MCRA will enable MNCs to work with
different public institutions, including A*STAR institutes, universities, and hospitals, from one single entry point.
In addition, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), Singapore's regulatory authority; the National University of Singapore (NUS),
and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), have played integral roles in fostering interconnectivity to further advance
Although there have been setbacks in consolidating the Biopolis of Asia, like the 2010 closing of the Lilly Singapore Centre
for Drug Discovery, Singapore is still attracting investments from big names. Novartis has committed USD 500 million to construct
a biotech manufacturing facility. Proctor & Gamble's (P&G) 105,000 square foot, USD 192 million Innovation Center in the Biopolis
is scheduled to be fully operational by mid-2013.
R&D expenditure in Singapore (1990-2010)
James Kaw, the director of the Singapore Innovation Center, cites the country's strength in the biomedical field as one of
the principal reasons P&G decided on this location. The center, P&G's first in 20 years, will focus on beauty products, hair
care, skin care, air care and personal health.
"What is important is that the industry continues to grow and the capabilities we have built are anchored in Singapore and
can be redeployed," says Keat Chuan Yeoh, managing director of the EDB.
Public-private partnerships (PPP) are part and parcel of the anchoring plan. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), for example, has a SGD
2 million (USD 1.6 million) PPP between GSK Vaccines and A*STAR's Bioprocessing Technology Institute to collaborate on vaccine
and adjuvant system-related research projects. In 2010, GSK launched the GSK-Singapore 10 Year Strategic Roadmap in partnership
with the EDB. A joint fund of SGD 50 million (USD 41 million) is dedicated to building capabilities in the areas of green
manufacturing and healthcare policy in Asia.
Augusto Muench, Regional Director South East Asia & MD Singapore Boehringer Ingelheim