Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Becoming a biomedical hub

S'pore's ambition to mold sector into another engine of economic growth is turning into reality

THE biomedical sector here is humming along nicely, given the government's determined push to make Singapore a globally competitive and trusted centre for scientific and related commercial activities.

According to the Economic Development Board, biomedical companies from around the world invested more than US$500 million in Singapore last year. And research and development spending exceeded US$760 million.

More than 50 international pharmaceutical, biotech and medical technology companies are carrying out R&D in Singapore, besides 30 public sector research and medical institutes.

In the past few months, biomedical giants have also boosted their presence locally despite the recession. For instance, Japanese drug maker Takeda launched its regional headquarters and regional clinical coordination here last week.

And in June, GlaxoSmithKline opened a $600 million vaccine plant while Agilent Technologies set up a new life sciences manufacturing facility.

Supporting the biomedical cluster
There are grand ambitions for the biomedical sciences sector, as these developments show. The industry is slated to become another engine of economic growth.

Several government agencies - such as the Economic Development Board, Agency for Science, Technology & Research and JTC Corporation - share the job of turning Singapore's ambition to be a biomedical hub into reality. As the country's industrial landlord, JTC has been supporting the specialised real estate requirements of the biomedical sciences industry.

One of the agency's key projects is the Biopolis at one-north, a purpose-built biomedical estate that offers more than 200,000 sq m of space for R&D in the first two phases of development. The 'science mini-city' houses researchers from the private and public sectors, and boasts big names such as Abbott, Eli Lilly and Novartis as tenants.

Biopolis provides researchers with cutting-edge facilities such as laboratories for DNA sequencing. There are also business support facilities such as meeting rooms. The aim is to help biomedical companies cut R&D capital spending and accelerate drug discovery and development.
To meet continued demand for R&D space, Biopolis's third phase of development is under way.

Building a biomedical manufacturing cluster
Besides Biopolis, JTC is preparing land for manufacturing activities in the biomedical sciences sector. The 183ha Tuas Biomedical Park I and 188ha Tuas Biomedical Park II are located at Tuas View - the western tip of Singapore, 20 minutes away from Jurong Port and just five minutes from the Tuas Checkpoint to Malaysia.

The park has all essential infrastructure, such as roads, power lines, telecommunication lines, sewer pipes and water and gas supplies. And third parties are providing utilities such as steam, natural gas, chilled water and waste treatment services.

To improve the appearance of the industrial estate, JTC has spent $6 million on lush landscaping.
With the estate's 'plug-and-play' design, pharmaceutical, biologics, medical device and other biomedical companies can set up manufacturing operations with minimal lead time. They can either move into fully-serviced facilities or custom-build their own.

By staying within a cluster, these firms can enjoy economies of scale from sharing major infrastructure. It is also easier for JTC to look after their niche requirements.

Attracting big names to Tuas Biomedical Park
Already, Tuas Biomedical Park has attracted a host of global biomedical players - including Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Wyeth, Genentech and GlaxoSmithKline. According to JTC's 2007 annual report, the estate hosts manufacturing operations belonging to six of the world's top 10 pharmaceutical companies.

Merck was the first tenant to move into Tuas Biomedical Park in 1998 and has been allocated some 19.4ha of land for its production plants.

More recently, US-headquartered Genentech committed US$140 million to set up a biologics facility within the estate. The firm is a leading developer of some of the latest cancer drugs, and the facility will be the first in Singapore by a US biotechnology manufacturer.

Swiss life sciences company Lonza is also building two manufacturing plants for mammalian cell-derived products, investing a total of about US$600 million.

Then there is Novartis, which will spend US$448 million setting up a state-of-the-art cell culture facility. The facility will support the clinical and commercial production of protein-based drugs for various medical conditions such as arthritis, cancer, asthma and spinal cord injury. Novartis's Singapore facility is its largest investment in 140 countries.

'Singapore is the only country in Asia with capabilities across the entire value chain of biologics, from research and development to pilot projects and beyond that to commercial manufacturing,' JTC said in its annual report.

Besides enjoying infrastructural support, biomedical companies here can also depend on solid government support, strong intellectual property protection laws and a thriving biomedical sciences community.

With all these developments, Singapore is well on its way to fulfilling a dream.

Source: Business Times, 14 July 2009

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