The latest news from academia, regulators
research labs and other things of interest
Posted: June 17, 2008
EDB Singapore and Agency for Science, Technology and Research
(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
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
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)
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
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