Singapore's Biomedical Industry: On Track to Reach Projected Growth

Singapore's burgeoning biomedical sciences industry stood firm against last year's global economic slowdown and remains on track toward achieving its growth target for the coming years. So said the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and the Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR), both of which are sponsors of Next Wave Singapore, at a recent industry briefing.

The manufacturing output for the industry--which comprises pharmaceutical, medical technology, biotechnology, and health care service companies--grew by 3.2% to a total of SG$6.6 billion in the year 2001. While the pharmaceutical sector accounted for the bulk of this increase (76%, or SG$5 billion), the medical technology sector also recorded an increase of 3.4% in output.

Employment in the pharmaceutical and medical technology manufacturing sectors expanded by a combined total of 5.7% last year to 6000 individuals. Employment in the pharmaceutical sector grew by 7.6%, while that in medical technology grew 4.7%.

The biomedical sciences industry currently accounts for only about 5% of Singapore's total manufacturing output. However, investment in this growing industry is still expected to reach a target of SG$12 billion in manufacturing output by 2005.

Last year alone, a total of SG$845 million worth of fixed asset investments was committed through 19 new projects. These include various investments in R&D, manufacturing, and process development by giant pharmaceutical companies such as Norvartis, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxter, and Merck Sharp & Dohme.

Of prime significance to the scientific community are the establishments of two new R&D centers, the Lilly Centre for Systems Biology and the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, both of which are due to commence operations this year. The two centers are supported by EDB's SG$ 1 billion R&D fund, which was set up 2 years ago to promote private R&D activities.

The Lilly Centre for Systems Biology is Eli Lilly's first systems biology R&D center outside of the United States. Projected to spend SG$260 million on biosystems research for the next 5 years, this groundbreaking center will employ approximately 50 scientists and information technology professionals.

The Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases, which will be set up primarily for the discovery and development of new treatments, vaccines, and cures for tropical diseases, will spend SG$220 million on research over the next 5 to 10 years. The research institute will employ about 60 full-time scientists and technicians.

As part of a broad strategy to develop Singapore into a vibrant biomedical hub, EDB and A*STAR are gearing up efforts to sustain the growth of this industry through continual strengthening of the technology base, development of innovative R&D, and the enhancement of workforce capabilities. As a specific example, this year A*STAR plans to double the number of National Science Scholarships it offers. Started in 2001, these scholarships are intended to support Singaporeans pursuing studies and research training in the biomedical sciences.

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