New frontiers

Life Sciences represents the new frontier of economic development. To better understand where it would take us, we need to gain some knowledge of this new phenomenon.

By Grace Chua

With the slow demise of the engineering sector which contributed close to half of Singapore’s manufacturing output, the Economic Development Board (EDB) of Singapore needs to seek alternative strategies to maintain the economic success of this island city.

To do so, the EDB has slowly turned its focus, since the late 1990s, towards the life sciences sector with an emphasis on economic growth. Life sciences is a broad term that covers pharmaceuticals, healthcare, bio-medical research and clinical development. EDB has spearheaded the Biomedical Sciences Initiative (BMS) to nurture the biomedical science and healthcare services in Singapore and transform Singapore into a premier life sciences hub. BMS works in tandem with Bio*One Capital and the Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) to create an optimal environment for the development of manufacturing businesses and research in the life sciences sector.

Bio*One Capital ( is a globally known leading biomedical sciences investment management company in Asia. With a strong foothold in the global biomedical playing field, they bring to Singapore’s life sciences sector expert investment know-how. Along with financial, business and scientific expertise their extensive networks in the global biomedical arena allows them to actively provide practical support in the partnering and collaborative opportunities within its portfolio of companies. Their presence in Singapore is vital in the provision of growth strategies in the Asian life sciences industry.

BMRC is a national body established in 2000 under Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). BMRC’s main objective is to develop human resource for the Singapore’s public sector biomedical and healthcare research and development activities. It also aims to promote awareness of biomedical research and provides auxiliary support to help sustain Singapore’s public sector biomedical and healthcare research and development.

BMRC also provides research funding to university and hospital-based researchers. And five overseas research institutes in Singapore:

• The Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB)
• Institute of Bioengineering and nanotechnology
(IBN) []
• Bioprocessing Technology Institute(BTI)
• Bioinformatics Institute (BII)
• Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)

Six advisory committees have also been set up to highlight Singapore’s commitment in becoming the Biopolis of Asia. These committees cultivate the development of biomedical science industry, research and education:

1. Life Sciences Ministerial Committee (LSMC)
2. Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council
3. Bioethics Advisory Committee (BAC)
4. Biomedical Sciences Manpower Advisory Committee
5. Genetics Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC)
6. National Committee for Laboratory Animal Research

What Makes Singapore So Special?
Singapore may be a small island but it has strategic advantages that make it a very attractive site for global players to develop life sciences and related industries. Singapore strategic geographical position has contributed to Singapore being one of the world’s busiest ports. It has also firmly secured Singapore’s status as a leading financial hub and trading centre with access to the markets all over the Asia Pacific region.

Singapore has fantastic basic infrastructure like a first-class airport and local transport system. It has a very conducive business environment and positive investment climate. Singapore has an educated work force and a government that is supportive when it comes to nurturing talent. Combined with many business and research opportunities, it is no wonder that many of the best minds n the world flock to Singapore.

Singapore has a sound legal system. As a signatory to major international Intellectual Property treaties, Singapore has a strong regime in Intellectual property law. Complete with research and development capabilities, Singapore is an ideal place for the immense growth in the life sciences industry.

But it is not all work and no play. Singapore’s vibrant multicultural environment, friendly atmosphere and buzzing city-life with convenient access to not only the Asia-Pacific region but globally as well, makes it a great city to life in. Singapore not only caters to young professionals but to families as well.

With full support from the government in the development of life sciences sector in Singapore, this city is fully equipped with the physical infrastructure to cater for the life sciences businesses. There is also no lack of research infrastructure in Singapore, which is home to many research centres and institutes.

Singapore’s Physical Infrastructure
There are two major biomedical industrial facilities managed and developed by Jurong Town Corporation (JTC):

• Tuas Biomedical Park
Tuas Biomedical Park located in the west of the island was a development specifically aimed at catering to biomedical pharmaceutical manufacturing businesses. It occupies a land area of 183-ha and further expansion of 188-ha has been planned. Total development cost is estimated to be around $550million.

Currently home to six global biomedical companies:
1. CIBA Vision Asia Manufacturing and Logistics Pte Ltd
2. GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (Singapore) Pte Ltd
3. Merck Sharp & Dohme (Singapore) Pte Ltd
4. Norvatis Singapore Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Pte Ltd
5. Pfizer Asia pacific Pte Ltd
6. Wyeth Nutritionals

• Biopolis
Biopolis is a seven building complex dedicated to research and development. Providing state of the art facilities and scientific infrastructure, it aims to create just the right setting and working surroundings for biomedical research. The seven buildings are named Helios, Nanos, Proteus, Genome, Matrix, Centros and Chromos. Biopolis is also home to the five research institutes overseen by BMRC.
Not only are laboratories, offices and commercial spaces available there, there are shops, restaurants, cafes, a pub and a childcare centre. Biopolis is also an eco-friendly complex with built-in energy and water conservation structures and recycling facilities.

So Far and Further
2004 saw a phenomenal growth in Singapore’s biomedical sciences industry. Growth in 2004 exceeded the target for 2005 by over 30%. Manufacturing output in Singapore’s biomedical sciences industry in 2004 hit $15.8billion. Currently, a new target for manufacturing output has been set. The target is for the industry to achieve $25billion and an employment of 15,000 for the year 2025.

Singapore’s healthcare sector had similar success. Despite competition from other countries in the Asia Pacific like Thailand and Malaysia, the local healthcare industry saw a growth of 11.6% in 2004 in the number of healthcare visitors. It has been targeted for Singapore to receive one million healthcare visitors annually by 2012, thus contributing to 1% of Singapore’s GDP.

Singapore is poised for further and greater heights as a world-class biomedical hub.

For more information see:

Singapore’s Research Infrastructure
Singapore has a strong research infrastructure, not only cultivating local great minds but also attracting foreign talent as well. Currently boasting five research institutes, seven speciality centres and involving six hospitals.

5 research institutes:
• The Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) -
IMCB is a research institute in biomedical sciences focused on developing and supporting biomedical research
and development capabilities in Singapore.

• Institute of Bioengineering and nanotechnology (IBN) -
IBN is an institute with the purpose of conduct research in these cutting-edge fields by focusing on opportunities
as a result of dovetailing bioengineering and nanotechnology.

• Bioprocessing Technology Institute(BTI) -
BTI’s main aim is establishing cutting-edge bioprocesses technologies and developing the relevant potential

• Bioinformatics Institute (BII) -
BII is a research centre that focuses on knowledge discovery of biological data.

• Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) -
GIS’s a genomic discovery centre with focus is post-genomics investigations in particular to Asian populations.

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