Singapore: From Exception to Exceptional

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Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has invested heavily in moving beyond being a mere supplier of low cost labor like many of its Asian neighbors and pivoting into a more knowledge-based and innovation-intensive economy.

Chemicals, engineering, and electronics have always served as key manufacturing segments, but only starting from 2000, with the implementation of the Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Initiative, have the pharmaceutical and biotech realms become a strategic focus. With an injection of more than USD five billion, segmented into three phases over the past 15 years, Singapore has strived to construct a self-sustaining terrarium comprising comprehensive, end-to-end capabilities for biomedical research, development, and manufacturing. In many respects, the country has succeeded in becoming a simply irresistible platform for companies looking to tap into lucrative Asian markets and enhance their R&D productivity, with over 30 of the world’s top pharmaceutical biotechnology and medical technology companies now using Singapore as a regional center of excellence to host a variety of their core business activities.

And the vitality of Singapore’s investment pipeline remains fruitful so far. On the biologics front AbbVie recently committed USD 320 million to construct its first manufacturing plant in Asia and Amgen inaugurated its USD 145 million biomanufacturing plant two years ago. Chugai has pledged USD 355 million through to 2021 to ramp up its R&D efforts, while GSK is investing a further USD 57 million to enhance its antibiotic manufacturing facility. Ferring recently opened up its regional HQ for APAC and plans on investing USD 7.5 million in R&D over the next five years.

With respect to Horizon 2020, under the sixth science and technology plan for Singapore, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has recently unveiled the RIE2020 Plan, which entails a government commitment of S$19 (USD 14) billion over 2016 to 2020 to research, innovation and enterprise to take Singapore to through its next stage of development. This is 18 percent more than the previous plan, with spending close to one percent of the nation’s GDP.

Under this plan, Singapore seeks to support and translate research, build up the innovative capacity of its companies to drive economic growth, and leverage science and technology to address national challenges. Resources will be prioritized in four key areas: advanced manufacturing and engineering (17%), health and biomedical sciences (21%), services and digital economy, and urban solutions and sustainability.

Essentially, RIE2020 aims to smash research silos by getting interdisciplinary groups to work together under broad groupings, increase competition for funding to get the best research, train people in the right areas and get the best out of them. These efforts strive to fortify the country against a backdrop of brethren ASEAN countries looking to replicate Singapore’s development curve and allure, while buffering the country’s assets to shine through a post-modern era.

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