Singapore Grows Its Biocluster




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Video title: Singapore Grows Its Biocluster
Released on: December 11, 2008. © PharmaVentures Ltd
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Since the Singapore government initially started to invest in the creation of the country’s biopharma industry thirty years ago the sector has grown to make up 6% of the country’s GDP. The industry remains a priority for the Economic Development Board (EDB) as Mr Beh Kian Teik explains in this interview, filmed at AusBiotech 2008, with a focus now moving away from the manufacturing side to concentrate on R&D. In spite of strong competition in the AsiaPacific region the EDB is managed to build and support an environment in which biopharma can flourish.
Singapore Economic Development Board's mission and goals.
Fintan Walton:
On this show I have Beh Kian Teik who is from the Singapore Economic Development Board. Welcome to the show.
Beh Kian Teik:
Thank you very much.
Fintan Walton:
The thing about Singapore Economic Development Board is that it's a major driver for in economic growth in Singapore. What is its true mission and what are your goals? What are you trying to set?
Beh Kian Teik:
Well we are part of the government of Singapore. Our mission basically is to shape the future of Singapore's economy. We do that by basically executing and developing Singapore's Economic Development strategies as well as our industry development policy and we are also facilitating by investment by foreign and Multinational companies.
Fintan Walton:
Right and when it comes to the pharmaceutical and biotech sphere Singapore clearly has two goals, one is it has established a pharmaceutical manufacturing base successfully done that but it's also currently trying to develop a biotechnology infrastructure as well. So how does the Singapore Economic Development Board deal with those two types of sectors?
Beh Kian Teik:
We look at it as basically one industry and for us the very natural first step of developing our sector was really manufacturing. Singapore has got a long history of manufacturing in chemicals and we essentially looked at the core competency that we had in process industry and we felt that the very natural next step for us to go in fine chemical pharmaceuticals and so it wasn't a very big step for us to move from large pharma basically process refinery to the fine chemicals. And there was that thing that we did and it was a step by step delivered policy to develop there as a strong base work [ph].
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Beh Kian Teik:
That was something that we have started from almost thirty years ago and today the pharmaceutical industry is a major contributor to Singapore GDP almost 6% and a large part of this is related to the manufacturing. But as we look out into the future we also understand that essentially from the world of pharmaceuticals and medicines is one that it is about not just manufacturing but is really the whole this industry of manufacturing and research and development ultimately with a aim of coming out with new medicine and it was with that regards that we're putting a lot of investment to allow us to basically form research and development as a base to allow us to support our technology.
Creation of skillsets and the emerging markets around Singapore
Fintan Walton:
Right and as you said I mean this all started by 30-years ago and clearly the first area was in the manufacturing side and you know like many areas there are certain tax benefits but you need more than tax benefits to build to attract companies to Singapore. So how does Singapore tackle that issue of creating the skill sets that allow companies to feel comfortable about taking on manufacturing?
Beh Kian Teik:
Yeah I think that is spot on. I think the pharmaceutical and healthcare in general is about quality and is about trust and those are strength that Singapore already have through the long standing recognition by the Government that essentially people is key to the sector and that you need to make sure that you have a continued emphasis on the If you were the ethics of the people to basically make sure that you produce what you say you are gonna produce, no cutting corners and also you need to make sure that the government puts in the right training institution, the right training dollars to allow the people to basically getting the right kind of skills in order for you to get the way you need to be. Now it helps that -- Singapore have got a long standing relationship and partnership with many of the multinationals in pharmaceuticals and that has allowed us to form the very creative partnership with them to allow us to send some of our young people to train at their facility else where in the world and after a year, year and a half of training they will come back to Singapore and they will form the natural base of talent pool for the company to then form the nuclear around their future manufacturing in Singapore.
Fintan Walton:
Right. Now clearly you've got China and you've got India next to you, between you
Beh Kian Teik:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
Geographically, but it clearly those are emerging markets as well. So is that a threat to Singapore or is it an opportunity?
Beh Kian Teik:
I think that's a very complex and a very, very good question. Clearly in the world that we live in today, the world is such that it's flat as (indiscernable) was saying and I think it present both of what you just said now. It is an opportunity because the Asia Pacific market is growing rapidly growing one and many companies are now saying I cannot ignore Asia. But at the same time we are also we also need to recognize that India and China would be power house in their own respects in this space and I do think that the pie is big enough for China, India, for Singapore, for Australia to really coexist because I think the problem of discovering new medicine for the people is a big, big one and I think every country need to play a role and you'll get that risk appropriate benefit as well playing in the industry.
Key issues on innovation side and Singapore Economic Development Board 's role.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So lets talk about the innovation side going back to the biotechnology it had to -- to develop that in Singapore and Singapore has become famous in the sense for it's contribution and it's determination to build a biotech sector. So what are the key issues there and what can be Singapore Economic Development Board do to help the emergence of biotechnology in Singapore?
Beh Kian Teik:
First of all I think the biggest challenge for us and actually for anyone for that matter would be people. In that respect the EDB is helped by the whole of government in Singapore because ultimately it is not just what we do it is really what the whole of government in Singapore is going to do about it and here we are lucky because right from the beginning the country has adopted a very pro [ph] few global and put local policy and let me explain that a little bit more there. In the so lets talk about a local piece first. You know we are aided very much by the Ministry of Education to make sure that the young Singaporean that's graduating from our school gets trained on the right foundation. So this means that they get a strong emphasis on mathematics. They get a very strong emphasis in science and engineering. Now these -- we believe will form a very critical foundation to anyone who is who any country anyone who wants to play and want to participate in this industry. We the government have also put up the $1 billion fund to allow us to fund to give scholarships to Singaporean non- Singaporean who want to pursue a career in this industry and we use this money to allow us to send the kids to school in Singapore, in the United States some in Australia and in the UK and so on. The idea is to equip the young people with a right education and right training to allow them to come back to Singapore. So that's on the local front.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Beh Kian Teik:
On the international front we all recognize that this industry had 40 and it's a long industry.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah.
Beh Kian Teik:
And it will take us 8 years, 10 years before the first graduates come into Singapore and in the mean time we do what we've done -- always done well that is really reaching out to the international space and here again the Singaporean government have always adopted a open Immigration policy where they allow anyone with a smart mind and interest in Asia to come to Singapore to call Singapore home for whatever period of time and they will be able to essentially do research, do business development from the Singapore. We believe it is this combination of local talent and global talent that will make Singapore into a power house what we are expecting.
Funding and international collaborations.
Fintan Walton:
Right and that's very important, but key thing is funding and funding can come from government and the current government sponsored programs but in the end one of the issues that sits there not just only for Singapore but rather parts of the biotech industry elsewhere is this funding gap and one of the comments sometimes made about Singapore is that you can get a company started but it's very difficult to get it funded further through. So how can Singapore overcome that problem?
Beh Kian Teik:
Again to be spot on that I think the late stage funding is going to be a major problem for actually any companies around the world. So again we are trying to adopt the step wise and systematic approach to basically solving a problem. The first is first but the first is basically us making a statement that research and development would be a large part of Singapore's economy and so as a country we've already made a commitment to spend about 2 or 3% of our GDP on research and development. Now that is a big jump and it is money that we are prepared to put on the table because we recognize it is basically investment for our future. A lot of this money will go into support basic science, some of them will go into support industry development as well. So that's one piece out of pie in order to make sure that the country's biotech and pharmaceutical sector is set on correct foundation which is really the science and technology. Beyond that the government has also put in money to allow us to set up our own venture fund. The idea is basically to kick start the whole sector by putting government money into equity, in the form of equity to allow us to take companies up to the different stages.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Beh Kian Teik:
Ultimately we do believe that it is also about doing business differently, here we will take advantage or we need to learn how to take advantage of what the Asia offers. India will allow us a lower cost space, China again the same thing. These two countries plus the rest of South East Asia will also offer macro opportunities that were required to do drug discovery differently. So it is a combination of the science that we do in Singapore, the lower cost base in the region that will allow us to hopefully get products to the market at a lower cost. And once we get this if you would fit in that model going correctly we believe that it is a matter of time before the venture capitals of the rest of the world will come in. it's always a chicken and egg which will come first the products or the money and we believe that -- and what we are trying to do is basically putting a lead on board so that ultimately help to break it out.
Fintan Walton:
So in the end that requires collaboration?
Beh Kian Teik:
Sure.
EDB participation in AusBiotech conference and opportunities offered by singapore.
Fintan Walton:
That's international collaborations and so forth. So clearly we are here in Australia and you are attending the AusBiotech Conference?
Beh Kian Teik:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
In Melbourne. What is the role of Singapore Economic Development Board doing here in Australia?
Beh Kian Teik:
We look at this industry as a global one and we look at Singapore we have noticed that we have got strong partnership with companies and with the government and research institution from the US, from Europe. We also have now collaboration as well as companies from Japan and Singapore. We don't have that many from Australia and it's a shame because when we look at this part of the world, the places of good science would include certainly Australia and we think that it is a missing link in Singapore's globalization effort and it I think it's also missing opportunity for Australian's and Australian companies because we are really in the same part of the you know we are in the same time zone and same part of the world and this is going to be a big, big opportunity and one of the purpose of me coming up here is hopefully to continue to send the message that there is a big opportunity here. It is a difficult one because Asia is a very, very complex one and perhaps in some small way Singapore can try and help you navigate that space also.
Fintan Walton:
So if I was an Australian biotech company and I was thinking about Singapore what is the opportunity there?
Beh Kian Teik:
I think there are may be two may be three broad one. If you are a like a large Australian pharmaceutical or biotechology company that is now at a stage where you have got some products that are ready for market think of Singapore as a location for you to essentially serve and market your product to the rest of Asia. You know you need to be at least I believe you need to be close enough to the market to understand the differences and the complexity of the financing and of healthcare in Asia, being in Singapore allows you to be one step closer to where your market is. If you are a smaller biotech company, I think the opportunity -- but you've got good compounds and good strength, a second opportunity is for you to basically tap on to the science in Singapore for you to understand the disease, Asian diseases, Singaporean diseases because that's one way for you to basically get a leg into what the future market is going to be and lastly you know we have got our fund venture fund as well. So we are in the business of trying to raise your next trench of funding for you to carrying your business may be the final operation let's say in Asian diseases, you could be at Singapore for that reason.
Fintan Walton:
So the venture capital would have to go into the company that would be formed in Singapore?
Beh Kian Teik:
That will be well Okay so here let me qualify that in the singaporean space we have got government and non-government venture clearly if you're looking at non-government venture fund it's basically a fund you know
Fintan Walton:
Yeah.
Beh Kian Teik:
You could go there pitch for your money like anything else. For the EDB fund ideally we want to look at some opportunity that has a Singaporean link because we think that is how you add value to us and how we will add value back to you in a form of basically identifying opportunities type of things you can do in Singapore that you might not be able to do somewhere else in the world.
Fintan Walton:
Yeah. So in the end how would you measure your success?
Beh Kian Teik:
Well we are measured by two -- two broad measures. The first is basically contribution to Singapore's GDP and secondly by the job that we create because ultimately it is about creating jobs that in the sector that Singaporean's will want to -- to do, but in order for us to create the job we have always continuously recognized that It is about creating job for Singaporean by opening a space in Singapore that is a global industry, which is really -- in this case they are the pharmaceuticals.
Fintan Walton:
Beh Kian Teik, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Beh Kian Teik:
It's my pleasure.
Fintan Walton:
Thank you.
Beh Kian Teik:
Thank you.
Beh Kian Teik
Director, Biomedical Sciences Group
In October 2008 Mr. Beh Kian Teik was made Director, Biomedical Sciences Group of the Singapore Economic Development Board(SEDB). . Beh Kian Teik joined the EDB as a Senior Officer in the Infocomms & Media Group. He was posted to the United States in October 2000 as Director of the EDB's Boston office. He returned to Singapore as Head of the EDB's Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology group in September 2004. Mr. Beh Kian Teikwas awarded the EDB-Glaxo Scholarship to study engineering. He received his BSc from University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and MSc from University of California, Berkeley.
Singapore Economic Development Board
The Singapore Economic Development Board is the organization responsible for the continued economic success of Singapore and the companies on its shores. Singapore is one of Asia's fastest growing bioclusters and, since the start of its focused effort to develop the biomedical sciences industry in the year 2000, Singapore's manufacturing output quadrupled to S$24 billion in 2007 while R& D expenditure tripled to exceed S$1 billion in 2006. Today, 11 of the top biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as 17 of the top medical technology companies have set up more than 45 commercial-scale manufacturing facilities. Alongside the seven public-sector research institutes, 50 companies are carrying out R& D that includes drug discovery, translational research and medical technology innovation. Singapore is now the base for more than 2,000 researchers from across the globe.