Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's boom time for Biopolis

Phase 5 will be completed by 2013 and will bring the total R&D space there to more than 3.3 million sq ft

SINGAPORE'S biomedical sciences sector is booming. And to cater to the growing number of companies that need more space, the nation's premier biomedical research hub, Biopolis, will be expanded again.

Industrial developer and landlord JTC said in May that it will spend another $140 million to provide 495,000 square feet of new space for companies engaged in cutting-edge work in creating new drugs and medical equipment.

This new phase - which will be the fifth for Biopolis and will be completed by 2013 - will bring the total research and development (R&D) space at Biopolis to more than 3.3 million square feet.

Phase five follows hot on the heels of the fourth phase, which was announced just in January this year.

Biopolis has been purpose-built for public and private biomedical research institutes and organisations and the expansion comes at a time when multi-national biomedical companies are expanding in Singapore.

'The biomedical sector has been putting up a strong showing so far this year,' says CIMB economist Song Seng Wun. 'We have seen a lot of reports on capacity expansion and reports on new investments and it looks like the sector is now attracting quite a lot of interest.'

In May, Japan-based Fujitsu officially opened its first biomedical research facility in South-east Asia here in Singapore. The company plans to work with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) to provide cutting-edge methodology to drive research for the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases.

'Fujitsu's collaboration with A*Star represents our commitment to being part of an ecosystem that will enable Singapore to harness innovations in technology, with the aim of developing a world-class R&D hub,' said Francis Goh, president of Fujitsu Asia, at the plant's opening.

US-based Abbott also officially opened its Asia-Pacific Nutrition Research & Development Centre at the Biopolis in Singapore recently. The centre is Abbott's largest nutrition R&D facility outside of the US and will create science-based nutritional products for infants, children and adults.

The biomedical sector has been a boost to the overall economy over the first five months of this year. For example, Singapore's economy grew by close to 50 per cent year-on-year in April 2010 and 60 per cent year-on-year in May. Mr Song points out that the growth was largely led by the biomedical sector, which accounted for more than half of the growth in both months.

And for the whole of 2009, Singapore's biomedical sciences manufacturing output rose 2.5 per cent year-on-year to $20.7 billion, while total employment climbed 7.2 per cent to 13,174. Singapore aims for the sector to hit a manufacturing output of $25 billion by 2015.

Looking ahead, the sector is expected to continue expanding, and JTC will provide the real estate to support this growth, said Heah Soon Poh, director of JTC's biomedical and chemicals cluster.

Spearheading sustainable design

Biopolis's fifth phase will feature an energy efficient and sustainable design which will allow for more pre-clinical trials to be carried out.

In fact, the entire development aims to spearhead innovation in environment performance and sustainability and serve as a test-bed for promising environmental technologies.

Examples of Biopolis' sustainable features include: a building-integrated photovoltaic or solar-powered system; 'intelligent' building automation systems to optimise energy usage; a district cooling system to provide centralised chilled water supply to optimise the use of space and minimise energy costs for air-conditioning; and solar-powered LED lights with ultra capacitor as energy storage device, which are now being used as a landscape feature.

But with the upcoming expansion of Biopolis, sustainability will be taken a step further as JTC focuses on energy-efficient lab designs. Design strategies JTC will be looking into include more accurate sizing of laboratory equipment to reduce energy wastage; tapping on higher efficiencies for mechanical and electrical equipment and solar control and glazing for laboratory spaces to reduce heat gain.

It is also looking at the optimal selection of lighting to reduce maintenance and running costs as well as designing for naturally ventilated spaces wherever possible to reduce the cooling needed for the building.

'JTC recognises that energy efficiency is the leading driver for sustainable lab design as it represents the greatest possible operational savings,' the agency says. 'Sustainable energy efficient labs underscores JTC's ongoing effort to provide innovative and sustainable real estate solutions.'

Working to build a biomedical hub

Besides Biopolis, JTC is preparing land for manufacturing activities in the biomedical sciences sector.

The agency said earlier this year that it will launch a medical technology (med-tech) cluster in Jurong.

The med-tech sub-sector is expected to drive growth within the larger biomedical sciences sector. The cluster involves the manufacture of equipment used in the industry, such as syringes and medical test-kits.

Singapore's manufacturing output of med-tech products is expected to increase from $2.9 billion in 2008 to $5 billion by 2015, said JTC's Mr Heah.

Med-tech employs about two-thirds of all workers in the biomedical science sector, as it is more labour intensive than pharmaceutical production.

The new med-tech cluster, at Jalan Tukang in Jurong, aims to bring major industry players together in a new facility that will cost $60 million to $80 million to build initially.

Firms can collaborate and cut costs through cooperation as they will be located 'in the same space, creating synergies and reducing costs', said Mr Heah.

JTC and other government agencies are also pushing Tuas Biomedical Park, which has already attracted a host of global biomedical players such as Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Wyeth, Genentech and GlaxoSmithKline.

The 183ha Tuas Biomedical Park I and 188ha Tuas Biomedical Park II are located at Tuas View at the western tip of Singapore and are five minutes from the Tuas Checkpoint to Malaysia and 20 minutes away from Jurong Port.

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

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, the agency says.

All these developments show the government's ambitions for the biomedical sciences sector.

Several government agencies - including the Economic Development Board, A*Star and JTC - all share the job of turning Singapore's aim of being a biomedical hub into reality. JTC, which is charged with supporting the unique real estate requirements of the biomedical sciences industry, will continue to come up with innovative solutions, it said.

Source: Business Times, 29 Jun 2010

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