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Posted: June 17, 2008

Singapore Is one of the fastest growing bioclusters in Asia

(Nanowerk News) Singapore's investment of more than US$2.1 billion in the biomedical sciences sector has seeded one of the fastest growing bioclusters in the world. R&D spending in the biomedical sciences grew by more than 24% to reach US$760 million in 2006 (from 2005), while the number of research scientists and engineers working in the sector has similarly grown by more than 12% to exceed 2,000 people.
More than 50 companies have established biomedical sciences research operations in Singapore. The majority are involved in drug discovery and translational research. These decisions attest to the industry's recognition of Singapore's value as a leading, world-class R&D hub providing access to global talent, world class scientific and clinical infrastructure as well as growth opportunities in Asia.
Recent expansions include Pfizer's multi-therapeutic clinical research unit and Takeda's neuroscience research lab. Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases extended their study into malaria, while Lilly expanded its research into cancer in addition to metabolic diseases. The new Lilly-Singapore Center for Drug Discovery, comprising 150 scientists, will house its first drug hunting teams in Asia, the only drug discovery groups in Lilly focusing on stem cell biology and epigenetics research.
Complementing the expanding base in drug discovery, Singapore registered a corollary increase in R&D activities amongst diagnostics and research instruments companies. This trend will contribute to Singapore's capabilities in enhancing R&D productivity. Recent announcements include Fluidigm's opening of its Biomedical Product Development Center focusing on next-generation biochips, alongside Qiagen's announcement of a molecular diagnostics R&D center. PerkinElmer also opened its Center of Excellence, which will serve as the base for its R&D efforts in Asia.
Homegrown Innovation Making Headway
In addition to investments by multi-national companies, Singapore's homegrown companies and research institutes are starting to garner global recognition for their innovative drug discoveries and research.
1. Merlion Pharmaceuticals made it to FierceBiotech's 2007 industry listing of biotechnology companies to watch worldwide. It is the first Asian company on the annual roll of top emerging companies since the inaugural awards in 2003. In December 2007, the company received the "Best Company in an Emerging Market" award at the annual Scrip awards in London. Merlion Pharmaceuticals also has a novel antibiotic drug, Finafloxacin, touted as the most powerful to date, which commenced clinical trials in September 2007.
2. S*Bio's lead candidate for cancer, SB939, was discovered in Singapore and entered clinical trials in 2007. SB939 is touted as a novel and best-in- class cancer therapy. In addition, S*Bio received orphan drug approval from FDA to conduct clinical trials for a drug that is designed to treat myeloproliferative disorders (MPD), a disease which if untreated can lead to cardiovascular diseases and leukemia.
3. The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has succeeded in developing an all-in-one rapid gene diagnosis device that enables polymerase chain reaction (PCR) gene detection within 17 minutes, which is radically faster than conventional laboratory methods. IBN is actively exploring commercialization opportunities for this highly promising product.
4. Veredus Laboratories collaborated with STMicroelectronics to commercialize a breakthrough molecular diagnostics lab-on-chip test kit - VereFluTM. This portable device, the size of a fingernail, allows for rapid detection of major influenza types within two hours instead of the weeks required using more traditional methods.
Building Up Capabilities in Drug Discovery
Mr. Alexis Borisy, President and CEO, CombinatoRx, said: "Singapore presents strategic partnership opportunities that help to expedite our drug discovery efforts. In our drive to develop new drugs and therapies for infectious diseases, CombinatoRx has established contacts with leading research institutes and companies such as the Genome Institute of Singapore, the Singapore Immunology Network, the Singapore MIT Alliance for Research and Technology's infectious disease interdisciplinary group and the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases. Such partnerships are only possible in Singapore where virtually everything is located in close proximity with each other, public and private research labs, service providers and academic hospitals."
He added: "We developed our lead candidate in Infectious Disease in Singapore. The drug combination against the Hepatitis C virus is currently in the late preclinical stage and is one of the very exciting programs on deck for clinical development in Singapore."
Mr. Yeoh Keat Chuan, Executive Director, Biomedical Sciences, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) said: "Singapore's forward-looking environment and reliable execution allow companies to place strategic bets for the future. We have built up core capabilities in industrial, human and intellectual capital and established the Biopolis as an icon for biomedical sciences research in Asia. We are now fast building capabilities and infrastructure for translational and clinical research to facilitate drug discovery from bench to the bedside and back. In Singapore, companies can increase the value of their investments by tapping into the intensity and diversity of partnerships: with and between scientists and clinicians, regional entities, and the public and private sectors."
Forging Ahead with Translational and Clinical Research
Singapore is gaining ground in translational and clinical research, as it expands its base of specialized facilities, dedicated resources, scientific expertise and research projects.
It has established key resources in bio-imaging, bioinformatics and clinical units for early-phase trials. In addition to the Investigational Medicine Units that were announced in October last year, Singapore will invest another US$276 million in specialized research facilities to further drive translational and clinical research in strategic disease areas.
The Cancer Research Centre of Excellence, led by Prof. Daniel Tenen, aims to be one of the world's leading centers for translational cancer research by establishing and integrating key capabilities in cancer stem cells, cancer biology, genomic oncology, and experimental therapeutics.
The Centre for Translational Medicine is another key facility. Announced in May this year, the Centre will house clinicians, scientists and educators under one roof at the National University of Singapore (NUS). The Centre is equipped with a biosafety facility for the study of infectious diseases, an Investigational Medicine Unit for early-phase trials and the Clinical Imaging Research Centre.
Besides physical infrastructure, Singapore is also committed to funding important research that addresses strategic disease areas affecting Singapore and Asian populations. In 2007, Singapore announced a US$87 million commitment to Translational and Clinical Research Flagship Programs. These programs bring scientists and clinicians together to work on key diseases such as cancer; cardiovascular / metabolic disorders; neurosciences, infectious diseases and eye diseases(Note 1). In May this year, approximately US$125 million was awarded to more than 20 scientists and doctors for research projects and further studies overseas under the Singapore Translational Research Investigator Award (STaR) and the Clinician Scientist Award (CSA) respectively.
Attracting International Talent
Prof. Edward Holmes, Deputy Executive Chairman of the Biomedical Research Council (BMRC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) said: "One of Singapore's strengths is its ability to continuously draw top scientific and medical talent along with research institutes from the global research community. The Biopolis, Singapore's purpose built R&D campus, which fosters close collaborations between private and public sector R&D, is expanding in response to strong demand. Singapore launched a major translational and clinical research initiative, including the creation of two academic medical centers, in the last two years to support the development of the biomedical industry in Singapore. Coupled with its strategic location in Asia and multiethnic population base, Singapore offers key access to clinical development and translational research activities targeted at the expanding Asian population."
Recent examples of Singapore's success in attracting scientific luminaries and promising scientists include:
1. Prof. Colin Blakemore from the UK Medical Research Council is heading the Neuroscience Research Partnership between Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Singapore's A*STAR. Prof. Blakemore, an eminent neuroscientist, was the former President of the British Neuroscience Association and former Chief Executive of the UK Medical Research Council.
2. Prof. Daniel Tenen from Harvard Medical School is heading the Cancer Research Centre of Excellence. Prof.Tenen is a leader in the field of transcriptional regulation, hematopoiesis and cancer.
3. Dr. Bruno Reversade (France) and Dr. Prabha Sampath (India), who will carry out human embryology and stem cell research respectively. Dr. Reversade was formerly with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, while Dr. Sampath was from the University of Washington. Both scientists have published in renowned publications such as Cell and were recipients of the A*STAR lnvestigatorship (A*I) award, which was launched in February this year. Modeled after the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigatorship award, each A*I investigator will receive funding of up to US$500,000 a year to carry out impactful research projects in Singapore.
To obtain more information, please visit the Singapore Pavilion at booth number 3935 or http://www.biomed-singapore.com .
Source: EDB Singapore and Agency for Science, Technology and Research