, Singapore, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Is biomedical science the answer for Singapore against the might of China's manufacturing?
Over the last few months, the specter of China's rising competition as it joins the World Trade Organization has been a recurrent theme in government speeches. At every opportunity, senior ministers are indicating that the Singaporean economy, extremely dependent on electronic exports, must change.
As Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently said, "It is more urgent than ever for Singapore to upgrade our economy, especially the manufacturing industries, or else be hollowed out."
The city-state has been positioning itself to become a major hub for biomedical sciences, building it as the fourth pillar of its manufacturing sector alongside electronics, chemical and engineering.
Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew last month announced the government plans to invest some $1.1 billion to promote industrial research and new ventures in biomedical sciences.
There have been an increasing number of companies undertaking drug discovery, clinical development and high value-added manufacturing in Singapore in the last year.
"Our vision is to make Singapore not only a location for manufacturing of high-value biomedical sciences products, but also a competitive place for innovative drug discovery research and development, clinical trials, process development, regional headquarters and health care services activities," Tony Tan Deputy Prime Minister recently said.
Singapore has been the healthcare center for the region, with high standard hospitals, research institutes and universities. But now, the government is promoting the life sciences industry aggressively, as an alternative to the rising manufacturing power of China.
"The challenge ahead for us is to build Singapore into a multi-faceted hub which gathers in one place all the key players in the biomedical sciences including venture capitalists, researchers, clinical scientists, academics, engineers, entrepreneurs," said George Yeo, Minister for Trade and Industry.
The government wants to grow and nurture a strong community of scientists for research and for industry. It has just organized an international conference, gathering top scientists in that field, and in November will launched a program aimed at bringing 50 prominent international scientists to Singapore every year for the next 3 years.
As part of attracting top talents, the government is laying down the red carpet for the industry, developing a strong infrastructure network aimed at facilitating research and development.
On Dec. 6, the ground-breaking of Biopolis, a self-contained bio-medical sciences cluster, will be launched.
The "work, live, play and learn" environment will provide space for public biomedical research institutes, corporate research centers of biomedical companies, incubators for start-ups, as well as supporting services like animal facilities.
Phase 1 will comprise a 100,000-square-meter development and is expected to be ready in the second half of 2003.
It will accommodate about 1,500 scientists from both the public and private research institute, and should create a synergistic environment to promote collaboration amongst researchers.
The Biopolis cluster is part of the planned 194-hectare Science Hub, developed by the JTC Corporation, whose will unveil its plan for the hub in November. The Science Hub also targets information and communication technology and media.
In an interview, Goh Kok Huat, the director of the Science Hub Development Group at JTC, said he expected 70 percent of the Biopolis to be taken by public institutions, which will then act as magnets for private firms.
The Biopolis development will cost between about $168 million-$214 million, he estimated.
To seed the growth of the Biopolis, core elements of the Biomedical Research Council, the Bioinformatics Institute and possibly the Genome Institute of Singapore will be co-located at the Biopolis.
Singapore already has several research institutes and to achieve greater impact in molecular biology, the government has just decided to merger two molecular biology institutes by the year 2003: the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and the Institute of Molecular Agrobiology.
The 15-year old Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology has gathered more than 200 scientists, 80 percent from overseas. The institute in a partnership with an international consortium is trying to unravel the genome of the pufferfish, which will help to understand the human genome.
Meanwhile, the Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council recently announced the establishment of the Singapore Tissue Network and the formation of the Biomedical Grid Taskforce. The Singapore Tissue Network will put in place a state-of-the-art national tissue repository.
The JTC officials visited bio-medical hubs near Washington, Boston and San Francisco to get their inspiration. But the Biopolis will not be modeled on any of them, as no model was suitable to be fully replicated, Goh said.
"No facility has the right answer ... we're finding out what does not work," he added.
The Singapore Biopolis will be the first of its kind in Asia. It will complement the Biomedical park, which has been designed to accommodate 10 pharmaceutical and bio-pharmaceutical manufacturers.
Three global pharmaceutical plants have already taken up sites at that park: U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Nutritionals and Pfizer-Warner Lambert.
In 2000, the biomedical sciences industry's manufacturing output in Singapore grew by 2.1 percent to $4.6 billion and its value added grew by 2.7 percent to $2.9 billion.
By year 2010, the Economic Development Board aims for Singapore to be the key business base for 15 world-class companies, and a regional center for clinical trials and drug development.
The government also launched last year a $562 million fund, Biomedical Sciences Investment Fund, to invest in the biomedical industry. Officials believe the availability of investment funds for equity investments in commercial projects is an integral part of the development process for the biomedical sciences.