Singapore’s Biotech Industry: Government Plays a Major Role

The government is the largest financer of biotechnology in Singapore. It is hoped that the industry will soon meet the ranks of the country’s three leading industries — electronics, engineering, and chemical manufacturing. In October 2000, Singapore’s government designated S$1 billion (US$600 million) to be used to develop the country’s biotechnology industry.

Government efforts to guide and develop the fledgling biotech industry are guided by the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB). In 2000, a Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) was set up under the NSTB to coordinate biotech R&D activities in the public sector. NSTB has also been responsible for establishing a number of research institutes, including the Institute for Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), which was involved in the multinational human genome project. To date, NSTB’s emphasis has been on developing high quality research facilities to lure top companies and researchers to the country. Several major multinational firms have established research and manufacturing facilities in the country, including Schering-Plough, Wyeth-Ayerst, Aventis, Siemens Medical Instruments, and Covance. In June 2001, Eli Lilly and Company established its first System Biology R&D Center in Singapore. Lilly was the first foreign firm to accept funding from the Singapore government’s US$600 million biotech fund.

Singaporean officials also hope to attract additional private funding to the biotech industry. However, as the industry is still in its infancy (most drug discovery is in the very earliest stages), few investment opportunities are available. That said, efforts are being made to make the market more attractive, including developing a regulatory infrastructure that is “friendly” to biotech endeavors. The government is also revamping the centrally-run education system to include more instruction in life sciences at both the secondary and university levels.