Singapore, though conscious of its limitations, has been able to leverage its key assets of location, infrastructure and local talent in order to become the business hub for the entire region, with pharma and biotech as key components in its success.
Singapore is … an attractive investment destination, especially for the biomedical sector, because it has sophisticated infrastructure, a relevantly skilled workforce and great logistical connectivity to regional markets
It is not a coincidence that more than 30 of the top 100 biomedical companies globally have their regional headquarters in Singapore. It is well known that the nation offers a unique situation that, despite the comparatively small size of the market, makes it a great place to establish a flagship office in Asia. The executive director of the French Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) in Singapore, Carine Lespayandel, says that “Singapore is indeed an attractive investment destination, especially for the biomedical sector, because it has sophisticated infrastructure, a relevantly skilled workforce and great logistical connectivity to regional markets. Most notably, it has a robust intellectual property framework, ranked fourth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015/2016, which bolsters the confidence of medical technology firms and investors.”
The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is working hard to create the conditions necessary to attract foreign companies. Leading enterprises that have already set up their regional headquarters, manufacturing sites, and R&D centers in Singapore include Sanofi, International SOS, BioMérieux, and Servier. Singapore also has several business friendly organizations such as BioSingapore, SAPI and the different country chambers that are tailored to facilitating business processes, innovation acceleration and developing relations between the Singaporean and international business communities.
In tandem with the leading companies’ strategic moves towards Singapore, there is also a growing trend for local and international SMEs to initiate and expand their operations there. Due to Singapore’s location at the heart of Asia, Dr. Siew Hwa Ong, chairman of BioSingapore, emphasizes the benefits of investing in the country due to the fact that Asia “presents a large, diverse collection of emerging markets with significant unmet healthcare needs that at the same time provides an exciting opportunity for healthcare companies, big or small”.
In comparison to other regions such as Europe and North America, it is quite normal to see public-private partnerships used in both Singapore and Asia to build up biomedical industry expertise. Business interests and the government’s health objectives therefore converge in order to meet upcoming needs for services, support, and solutions in integrated ecosystems. The president of SAPI (the Association of Pharmaceutical Industries), Ti Hwei How, explains that “Singapore is the example of how efficiency can be improved when the government and the industry work together collaboratively.”
In order to maintain its leading regional position, the Singaporean government remains receptive to foreign investment, with a number of initiatives rolled out to make Singapore a more competitive and attractive place to do business. The executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, Judith Fergin, elucidates the inherent need to look for external resources, “Singapore is a small market with few natural resources, so it was with purpose that the government originally focused on attracting foreign direct investment to develop the economy.” In order to attract foreign interest, it was imperative for Singapore to establish the proper setting, environment, and incentives.
In order to better meet national and regional needs, Singaporean companies are looking for new ways to do business in different industries. The executive director of A*Star BMRC (an organization that supports, oversees and coordinates public sector biomedical research and development activities in Singapore), Dr. Benjamin Seet, states that “we will focus our efforts on identifying the disruptors and trend setters for each of these industry sectors in order to reinvent ourselves, introduce precision medicine into our health system, and work with companies that provide the science and translation platform for these technologies.”
Singapore is a small market with few natural resources, so it was with purpose that the government originally focused on attracting foreign direct investment to develop the economy.
One of the government’s priorities is attempting to understand how science, technology and innovation can help Singapore to be more competitive in the future economy. Pharma and biotech remain a fundamental part of the country’s biomedical strategy, now and moving forward, including disruptive technologies such as genomics, imaging, and digital monitoring, in which A*Star plan to invest heavily. Indeed, the government plans to invest USD 14 billion into R&D over the next five years with USD three billion being directed to biomedical research.
Singapore has one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world but faces many challenges ahead. Two of the main challenges, according to SAPI’s Ti Hwei How, are “our aging population together with its associated healthcare needs” and that “we are the nation with the second highest occurrence of diabetes in the industrialized world.” The base has already been built but there is still room to grow, both for global giants and SMEs.
Writer: Luis Sancho Manas