Riding the Biomedical Wave
By Everlyn Lee

There is probably no better time than now to ride on the rising biomedical sciences wave.

Singapore's strong push for the biomedical sciences industry since 2000 has produced stellar results. Today, the relatively new sector has already become one of the key pillars of the economy. Asia is forecasted to emerge as a global powerhouse in the biomedical sciences industry within the next decade, and Singapore is a strategic location for companies to expand into the region.

Abundant opportunities present themselves within the entire value chain of the burgeoning biomedical sciences industry, comprising basic research, clinical development, product and process development, manufacturing, and healthcare services.

A conducive research environment
Launched in 2000, the Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Initiative seeks to create an optimal environment for realising biomedical business or research aspirations. This effort is spearheaded by the Economic Development Board's (EDB) Bio*One Capital, and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Biomedical Research Council (BMRC).

Singapore features a dedicated biomedical R&D complex known as Biopolis, a nine-building complex housing top-notch research institutes (e.g., Bioinformatics Institute, Bioprocessing Technology Institute, Genome Institute of Singapore, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, and Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology), private research organisations and renowned biomedical universities. It is uniquely designed to foster a collaborative culture among the institutions and organisations under its roof. Researchers are able to access state-of-the-art facilities, scientific infrastructure and specialised services. These allow companies to cut R&D costs significantly and accelerate the development timeline. Cafés, shops and amenities are also located in the complex to create a "work, live and play" environment to stimulate the exchange of ideas amongst the best of research talents from all over the world. Together with the universities, hospitals and specialty centres that are located within close proximity, they complete the vital research infrastructure in Singapore.

In order to augment the pool of local research talents and stimulate research breakthroughs, a scheme to award globally competitive research fellowships has been launched. The National Research Foundation (NRF) Fellowship award provides a grant of up to US$1.5 million over three years to enable the recipient to assemble and lead a small research team at a Singapore-based research organisation of choice. Promising Fellows will be offered tenure-track or permanent positions at local universities or research institutions. In addition, the Singapore Translational Research (STaR) Investigator Award offers its recipients very competitive research support, remuneration and appointments at institutes and schools, in a bid to recruit and nurture world-class clinician scientists and investigators to start cutting-edge translational and clinical research programmes in Singapore.

Second Largest And growing
The biomedical sciences sector is the second-largest contributor to Singapore's GDP within the manufacturing sector. The industry is set to enjoy strong growth as major leading pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies continue to establish regional headquarters and manufacturing plants in the country. For these companies, the prime appeal of Singapore as a manufacturing base lies with its strong physical and regulatory infrastructure, its global connectivity, and its skilled manpower pool. Other than the development of Biopolis in Buona Vista, the Tuas Biomedical Park has also been specially developed to house manufacturing-related activities of pharmaceuticals and medical technology companies.

Currently, 11 of the world's leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have invested in more than 25 manufacturing facilities in Singapore, with seven new plants expected to open in the next three years. These include global pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Lonza, Merck & Co, Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis, all of which operate multi-purpose plants with the capability to manufacture a broad range of active pharmaceutical ingredients, biologics and nutritionals. These pharmaceutical companies have invested heavily in Singapore, which in turn increases the demand for manpower with relevant skills. Novartis, for instance, has plans to pump US$700 million to build a large-scale biotechnology facility which will be operational by the end of 2012 and will employ more than 300 people. This is the firm's largest investment in manufacturing capacity to date. GSK, another pharmaceutical giant, is set to strengthen its presence in Asia with the establishment of its first vaccine manufacturing plant in Singapore, which will be operational in 2010. This is GSK's biggest vaccine investment in Asia, which will create employment for more than 200 people with an investment sum of S$300 million.

Other notable investments include Abbott's US$280-million nutritional powder manufacturing plant which was completed in April 2008, and a joint venture by Lonza Group and Bio*One Capital to build a US$350-million large-scale mammalian cell culture plant (Lonza's second such facility in Singapore) which will be fully operational in 2011. Other than the availability of infrastructure and a talented workforce, strongly-enforced intellectual property protection laws are another reason for the proliferation of international pharmaceutical companies coming to Singapore.

Medical technology companies such as Applied Biosystems, Baxter, Biosensors, CIBA Vision, Fisher Scientific, Hoya Healthcare and Siemens Medical Instruments have also chosen to manufacture their key products in Singapore. Due to the diversity of the medical technology industry, the type of medical products manufactured in Singapore range from syringes and catheters, hearing aids and contact lenses, to research instruments and scientific analytical equipment. One of the main reasons for these medical technology companies' manufacturing presence in Singapore is the strong support garnered from the local electronics and precision engineering industry. The key support available includes contract manufacturing services, reverse logistics services and sterilisation services.

To sum it up, few countries have made the same level of commitment to the development of biomedical sciences as Singapore, which is poised to become a leading biomedical sciences hub. To find out more about BMS initiatives in Singapore, visit www.biomed-singapore.com.