Supporting Life, Growing Business

The biomedical science sector has been on the rise in Singapore since the turn of the millennium, when the government declared life sciences as the "fourth pillar" of Singapore's manufacturing sector.


 

Springing into Life

With its determination to transform Singapore into a world-class biomedical hub, the government has overseen tremendous progress over the years. This has been achieved by attracting leading players in the sector to set up operations here, while implementing forward-thinking policies to support the development of a flourishing research and development (R&D) ecosystem and an advanced manufacturing base.

From its modest beginnings, the biomedical sector here has grown to become one of the key sectors in Singapore's manufacturing landscape, accounting for 8.2 per cent (or S$23.7 billion) of total manufacturing output in 2013. The biomedical manufacturing cluster was also the second-largest contributor to manufacturing valued added at 20.5 per cent, while value added per worker was an impressive S$706,000.

Positive Outlook

Looking forward, there are even more reasons to be optimistic. While the biomedical market is expected to see only moderate growth in the mature economies, the growth economies are set to see significant growth in the years ahead. The World Bank has already forecasted the middle class in Asia to grow six-fold from the current 500 million to 3 billion by 2030.

This rapidly expanding middle class, coupled with longer life expectancies, will see greying populations in many Asian nations. In turn, this will escalate rapid growth in demand for healthcare services. The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates healthcare spending in Asia to rise to US$2.1 trillion by 2017. This represents an annual growth rate of 7.1 per cent, significantly outperforming the expected global average growth rate of 4.6 per cent.

In the Business Expectations of the Manufacturing Sector report released in October 2014, the Economic Development Board of Singapore (EDB) reported that the biomedical manufacturing cluster was optimistic about business conditions in the six months ahead, with a net weighted balance of 3 per cent of firms forecasting a positive business outlook.

While the pharmaceutical segment projects the business situation to remain largely unchanged, the medical technology segment is expecting improved business prospects, on the back of upcoming new product launches.

Supporting Research

In the short span of a decade and a half, Singapore has catapulted itself to the forefront of the biomedical science industry. Such rapid growth would not have been possible without the full support of the Singapore government, along with careful planning and concerted efforts to develop the industry.

On the research front, Singapore is now home to more than 7,100 researchers carrying out biomedical sciences R&D across major companies, local universities and public-sector institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and Ministry of Health (MOH). In fact, more than S$1.5 billion is spent on biomedical R&D annually, with the figure set to grow significantly in the years ahead.

The Singapore government recognises R&D to be an important enabler in the country's economic ecosystem, and has committed S$16.1 billion towards its Science, Technology and Enterprise Plan 2015 (STEP 2015). Of this investment, S$3.7 billion has been set aside to support biomedical science research efforts between 2011 and 2015.

This support goes beyond just funding though. Much effort has gone towards creating an ideal R&D ecosystem for the sectors. These include establishing leading public sector research institutions, attracting top scientific talent from around the world, building up the local research talent pool, supporting IP protection and promoting public-private partnerships to match companies’ R&D efforts to expertise within Singapore’s public research cluster.

This commitment further finds its physical manifestation in the Biopolis @ one-north development. The two-million square feet integrated complex is billed as the premier research hub for the biomedical sciences industry, and home to key public and private biomedical research institutes and organisations, carrying out the full spectrum of R&D activities the sector requires.

Manufacturing Success

Besides a strong R&D ecosystem, another factor behind Singapore’s success as a biomedical sciences hub is its advanced manufacturing base. The Republic is a trusted and competitive manufacturing site for many biomedical firms, with seven leading biopharmaceutical companies and 25 medical technology companies already here.

In addition, the JTC Corporation (JTC) – Singapore’s premier Government agency leading the development of industrial spaces – has been working closely with the Bio-pharmaceutical Manufacturers Advisory Committee (BMAC) to design and develop customised spaces to meet the specific needs of industry players here.

One of the fruits of this collaboration is the Tuas Biomedical Park (TBP). The 312-hectare TBP is a world-class manufacturing hub, which houses the manufacturing operations of major pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical technology companies, such as Abbott, Ciba Vision, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, MSD, Pfizer and Roche just to name a few.

Biopharmaceuticals and Medical Technology

For Singapore’s biomedical sciences sector, most of the production – around 77 per cent – is dominated by biopharmaceutical output. Besides the infrastructure in place for such manufacturing, Singapore has also steadily built up a manpower base that is ready for future needs, counting more than 4,800 skilled engineers and technicians.

In 2011, the biopharmaceutical sector contributed about S$22.8 billion in output and more than 6,000 jobs. The same year also saw the sector expand by more than 30 per cent. In fact, according to Datamonitor research, Singapore was the third fastest growing nation globally in the export of pharmaceutical goods from 2000 to 2010.

Meanwhile, although the medical technology sector occupies a relatively low base, it has demonstrated much growth potential. The sector has almost tripled its manufacturing output from S$1.5 billion in the year 2000 to about S$4.3 billion in the year 2011. Over the same period, its manpower base more than doubled from about 4,000 to 9,000. By the year 2015, the sector targets to achieve S$5 billion in manufacturing output.

Currently, a wide variety of medical products, ranging from syringes and catheters, to research instruments and scientific analytical equipment, are manufactured Singapore. The medical technology sector also benefits greatly from the significant presence of electronics and precision engineering firms, which they can count on for technical backing.

Strength to Strength

Looking ahead to the future, Singapore is set to build on its current success in the biomedical sciences sphere. With further enhancements to its already impressive R&D ecosystem and advanced manufacturing base, it stands to further grow its share of the global biopharmaceutical and medical technology markets.

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