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Capitalising Opportunities in Singapore, Asia’s Biomedical Hub

Capitalising Opportunities in Singapore, Asia’s Biomedical Hub

Singapore is a small but powerful country that has made a name for itself as a biomedical hub in the heart of Southeast Asia. 

With a strong focus on research and development, a supportive government, and a thriving business ecosystem, it has attracted numerous global players in the biomedical industry, with more and more companies choosing to set up shop on the island nation each year. 

In this blog post, we explore what makes Singapore such an attractive destination for biomedical companies, as well as some of the key players and initiatives driving growth in this exciting sector.

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Introduction to Biomedical Technology

Biomedicine has undergone a significant evolution since its inception and practice. With the advent of modern technologies, it has leveraged cutting-edge technologies, including AI, genomics, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology. 

The field’s ultimate goal is now to address complex biomedical problems, creating a revolution in healthcare delivery and research.

Singapore’s Growth in the Biomedical Space

Singapore began its journey into the biomedical space nearly 3 decades ago. It built essential research and manufacturing infrastructure, sought out talent, and invoked private sector activities. 

Back then, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) set up a fund, Bio*One Capital, which played a major role in enhancing local capabilities through investments, transforming the sector as a result.

Today, Singapore’s biomedical sector has become one of its key economic pillars, and features these areas of growth:

  • Having employed more than 25,000 workers in the biomedical cluster as of 2021
  • An increase of over 3 times the pharmaceutical industry’s manufacturing output since 2000
  • 8 of 10 of the world’s best pharmaceutical firms have facilities in Singapore, creating 4 of the world’s top 10 drugs by profit

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Why is Singapore Dominating the Biomedical Sector in Asia Today?

Singapore’s rise as an emerging powerhouse in biomedical research is not by chance. It has been carefully orchestrated through a combination of strategic governmental policies, robust research infrastructure, significant investment in education and research, and a vibrant startup ecosystem.

There is little surprise that many top multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms, including Moderna, BioNTech, and Merck, have chosen Singapore as a regional base. 

This, of course, is a testament to the Lion City’s famous foresight and preparedness for the future of biomedicine.

We take a closer look at these factors putting Singapore at the top of the industry in the region:

A Supportive Government

The government has been particularly proactive, initiating various programmes and funding schemes to support biomedical research and the integration of AI. 

The Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2025 (RIE) Plan, for example, is Singapore’s cornerstone for developing a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy and society, and biomedicine plays a large part in it.

World-Class Facilities and Fostering Collaboration

Universities and research institutions in Singapore are equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, nurturing a thriving research community. 

Collaborations between academia, research institutions, and industry partners are actively encouraged, fuelling innovation and technology transfer.

For the past 3 decades, regulators like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who regularly inspect facilities have not made major observations on ours. 

This is a testament to the reliability and quality of Singapore’s biomedicine infrastructure, encouraging pharmaceutical investors to expand their operations here.

Leading Manufacturing Capabilities

Singapore is widely known as a premier destination for manufacturing plants. There, innovative products are established and created, making it the choice of reputable global firms such as Pfizer, Sanofi, Amgen and Novartis.

These companies have international manufacturing hubs in the city-state, producing an extensive range of products, such as:

  • Drugs
  • Biological drugs 
  • Active pharmaceutical ingredients

Extensive Research Ecosystem

Singapore is home to a comprehensive and integrated research ecosystem that provides both value and potency to pharmaceutical firms.

This continues to be the case despite evolving drug discovery and advancement models against a backdrop of uncertain regulatory changes and demanding R&D productivity.

Companies can expect to establish important partnerships with:

  • Key opinion leaders
  • Budding biotechs
  • Institutions
  • Clinical and contact research associations 

Related Read: What Possibilities Will the Southeast Asia Medtech Market Bring?

What Are Some Significant Investments in Singapore’s Biomedical Industry?

Over the years, Singapore has seen some distinct investments that have helped to boost its capabilities in R&D and manufacturing. They include:

  • Japanese pharmaceutical conglomerate Takeda’s acquisition of Singapore’s first vaccine development startup, Singvax, in 2013. 

Since then, it has continued growing operations in Singapore, and created a few vaccine programmes such as QDENGA, a dengue fever vaccine

  • EDB Investments (EDBI)’s collaboration with Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturing MNC Lonza to create 2 biologics manufacturing facilities in Singapore in 2006 and 2007
  • A joint venture with American biotech company Chiron Corp that started Singapore’s first biotech research firm, S*Bio
  • Investment in life sciences instrument business Fluidigm, which caused the creation of its first integrated fluidic circuit manufacturing hub in Singapore back in 2005

As the global healthcare system revolutionises, Singapore’s healthcare system is expected to follow suit. Several trends in the healthcare and biomedical technology space are expected to be unmissable opportunities for investors and companies to seize:

Healthcare 3.0

As healthcare moves on to its 3rd evolutionary stage, it involves a world where it is reshaped to become patient-centric through digital solutions.

The majority of this forward-looking vision involves preventive care, contrasting with the reactionary healthcare system we are so used to.

In line with this bold aspiration, Singapore has implemented some initiatives, such as Healthier SG which was launched in late 2022. Healthier SG aims to transform patient delivery and support improved patient care.

Biomedical technology can play a pivotal role in virtual care delivery in digital healthcare tools, such as telemedicine applications that have seen rapid adoption amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

It can also help in early intervention for improved medical treatment outcomes, especially for chronic conditions.

The Synergy of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The convergence of AI and biomedicine is opening up new frontiers in healthcare and research, with immense potential for future growth and advancements.

AI’s major advantage over human research is its ability to collect and analyse massive sets of data and uncover patterns that would have been impossible to detect by humans.

Anticipating Future Pandemics: Role of AI

In the wake of the global pandemic, the role of AI in predicting and managing infectious disease outbreaks has come to the fore. 

AI algorithms can analyse a multitude of data — including epidemiological, clinical, and genomic data. This data can predict potential pandemics, track disease spread, and inform public health strategies. 

AI can also aid in the rapid development of diagnostic tests and vaccines, playing a critical role in global pandemic preparedness and response. 

Singapore aims to use AI to provide early warning systems for future pandemics and build a smart healthcare system, becoming a global bastion of innovation in the field.

Fostering Collaborations: The Key to Innovation

The future of AI in biomedicine also hinges on fostering collaborations. Building synergies between AI specialists, biomedical researchers, clinicians, industry partners, and policymakers can drive innovation and accelerate the translation of AI-driven biomedical solutions from the lab to the clinic. 

New investment into Singapore’s biomedicine sector will be crucial to this continued growth, enabling new partnerships that can elevate healthcare around the world. 

Where to Next for Biomedical Opportunities in Singapore?

It is clear that Singapore’s initial strategic efforts and vision in the early days set a strong foundation for its goal as the region’s biomedical hub.

For business investors, entrepreneurs, and foreign companies eyeing this flourishing sector, the path to successful navigation lies in informed decision-making and strategic partnerships. This is where our expertise at InCorp comes into play. 

We specialise in offering comprehensive services and advice for incorporating new biomedicine companies in the country. Contact InCorp today and join us in shaping the future of healthcare.

Related Read: Company Registration in Singapore: Ultimate Guide for Foreigners

FAQs About Singapore as Biomedical Hub

  • Singapore's rise as a leading hub in biomedical technology is attributed to robust governmental policies, substantial investment in research and development, a vibrant startup ecosystem, and state-of-the-art research facilities.
  • The future of biomedicine is highly promising, with anticipated advancements in disease management, personalised treatment strategies, and global pandemic preparedness.
  • Investing in the biomedicine sector in Singapore can offer substantial returns, given the country's strategic focus on AI, robust biomedical research ecosystem, and conducive business environment.

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About the Author

Eric Chin

Eric comes from banking background. He provides consultancy to local and foreign entities on the ideal market-entry strategies for setting up or expanding operations in Southeast Asia. Eric also provides advisory to fund managers and family offices on structuring as well as applicable tax incentives. He has also set up many VCC structures for licenced fund managers.

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