2021 Edition


With outstanding fundamentals, including top-class universities and hospitals, a government cognizant of the benefits that a robust research-based biopharma industry brings, and straightforward business processes, Singapore has long been a hub for life science companies looking to penetrate the vast Asia-Pacific region.

This exclusive new report deep dives into Singapore’s key attractions for international investors, from how its excellence in regulatory science has created a testbed for next-generation therapies and products, to the nation’s status as an advanced biomanufacturing hub for the region, to its increasing focus on translational research, building up an enabling ecosystem for biotechs seeking to take scientific discoveries from lab to patients.

Of course, 2020 was an extremely challenging year for Singaporean healthcare and life sciences. As the world pivoted to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s status as a medical tourism hub took a major hit and many non-essential surgeries and procedures were postponed. However, Singapore looks set to emerge from the pandemic with renewed vigour, not least through a greater uptake of digital tools across the board, and with a reinforced footprint in cold-chain logistics as part of the wider push to distribute COVID-19 vaccines across Asia.

Through conversations with key stakeholders across government, academia, multinational giants, and emerging start-ups, this report showcases the incredible opportunities present in Singapore, its vital role within the wider region, and the strategies in place to capitalise on the country’s evolution over the next five years.

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Ng Huck Hui

Assistant Chief Executive, Biomedical Research Council, A*STAR

As Singapore’s lead public sector R&D agency, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)’s mission is to advance science and develop innovative technology to further economic growth and improve lives. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit the economy and society.

Since our establishment, we have worked to bridge the gap between industry and academia and we remain committed to support and spearhead public sector biomedical R&D activities in Singapore, as well as working with international stakeholders and partners to drive technological improvements and innovations globally.

Through our multitude of programs, initiatives and research institutes, we take a broad and far-reaching approach to the advancement of research, science and technology in Singapore, spanning all areas of science from biomedical sciences to physical sciences and engineering. In collaboration with other public sector entities, we play a key role in the development of industry sectors by integrating our capabilities to create impact with multinational corporations and globally competitive companies; by partnering with local enterprises to enhance their productivity and global growth; and by nurturing R&D-driven start-ups.

Science and technology have always been a national priority for Singapore. The recently announced Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025, launched in December 2020, allocated a budget of SGD 25 billion (USD 18.6 billion) for the period from 2021 to 2025, to address national needs, prepare for future challenges, and generate new opportunities for growth. to build upon progress on investments made in the past 30 years, to, knowledge based, innovation-driven economy and society.  .  In the area of health care, A*STAR continues to advance research, and collaborate with our academic, clinical and industry partners to co-innovate and commercialise innovative solutions to address unmet medical needs in Singapore and beyond.

The pharmaceutical sector is a significant industry for Singapore’s economy, contributing 5 percent of our annual GDP. Industry-leading multinationals have consistently selected Singapore as the location for world-class R&D and manufacturing facilities as well as regional hubs, generating enormous value for the overall ecosystem as well as the global industry.

We invite you to read on and learn more about the tremendously exciting Singapore healthcare and life sciences ecosystem comprising the local universities, industry, public sector agencies as well as A*STAR, and the transformation underway, spurred on in part by the 2020 global pandemic.

Ng Huck Hui,

Assistant Chief Executive

Biomedical Research Council, A*STAR

Harjit Gill

Chief Executive Officer, APACMed

Dear members of the Healthcare & Life Sciences community,

As someone who has spent an important part of my career in the healthcare field and now representing the voice of the medtech community in the Asia-Pacific, I can attest to the trying yet impacting year of 2020.  While certainly there remain lingering hurdles ahead, I am optimistic that the power of collaboration will bring our industry to new heights.

In my recent column for PharmaBoardroom, I share more about the resiliency of the Far East region, how the medtech industry has been able to step up in supporting the cause at hand, and more general commentary about the revolution in health system designs happening.  Of course, Asia-Pacific is not without its challenges, allocating on average 5% or less of its GDP toward healthcare and with out-of-pocket healthcare expenditures representing 40% of total, thereby serving as a leading cause of poverty.  All Southeast Asia nations will officially be considered “aged societies” over the next couple of decades, for example, which is about how long our demographic dividend period will sustain.  Layer on nine million lives lost each year due to non-communicable disease, in a region that still represents 30% of total infectious disease cases, and truly the seams are becoming very stretched.

That being said, the onset of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #3 for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) bring a spirit of optimism.  While most UHC scores remain 70 or below in the Asia-Pacific, the SDG represents a $2 trillion investment in order to level up the care delivery and coverage models so as to harness the socioeconomic opportunity that healthcare can bring.  Governments are leaning in to UHC, looking at wider GDP benefits; such is the case in Singapore which, during the middle of the pandemic nonetheless, pledged an additional $20 billion toward scientific R&D efforts and to create 7,500 new healthcare jobs by the end of 2021.  In a region like Southeast Asia, short nearly five million of the requisite healthcare workers, these investments are critical.

Zooming in to the medtech industry, Asia-Pacific will soon be the #2 market globally.  At the Asia-Pacific Medical Technology Association (APACMed), our membership exceeds 200 companies working hand-in-hand with regional governments to make a difference on market access and regulatory matters for the adoption of novel medical technologies, especially bearing in mind those populations and geographies which are in the greatest of healthcare need.  In 2020, we rolled out a number of new programs such as the Regulatory Reliance capacity building program to drive harmonization across Southeast Asia, thereby reducing time, complexity, and cost associated with medtech adoption.  In addition, we came together as an industry cohort to document our values-in-practice during the pandemic, ranging from testing, diagnostics, consumables, ventilators, and syringes to cold storage equipment and supply security.  Even our annual forum moved to a virtualized format, offering more than 60 sessions and 130 speakers; seamless content sharing is essential for our collective progress.  More details about these programs can be found on the APACMed website.

Digital health has moreover been a boom following COVID-19, with most platforms experiencing an upsurge in utilization of 100%+.  In 2020 we established formally our Digital Health committee, with dedicated working groups to enhance the discussions around regulation, interoperability, and reimbursement.  We’ve now published a paper on each topic, with forthcoming public-private dialogue forums to ensure we continue to move forward together in lockstep.  APACMed members are increasingly interested in digital health technologies, many of which are from start-ups.  In fact, 85% of medtech and digital health companies in the Asia-Pacific are small to midsize players, causing a two-fold increase in deal volumes and values, and for which we have partnered with the Medtech Innovator initiative to be proactive in the matchmaking exercise.  Certainly, digital health represents a real opportunity to once and for all overcome the lingering access challenges being faced in the region.

As we start to move back into a kind of “new reality” in 2021, I wish everyone a healthy passage.  If anything has been learned over the past 12 months, it’s that there is something to teach and something to learn from various places around the planet.  In the Asia-Pacific where more than 60% of the world’s population resides yet only representing 24% of the medtech industry value, there is much more work to be done.  Health creation, beyond wealth creation, is our focus ahead at APACMed.

Respectfully yours,

Harjit Gill

Chief Executive Officer, APACMed

Featured Content
Cover Story
Riding High

Long renowned as a sophisticated pharma market and straightforward, reliable host country for multinational drug makers and health technology developers seeking to penetrate East Asian markets, Singapore’s life science sector has managed to hold its own during the ongoing disruption of the global pandemic.

With the city state facing its deepest recession in its 55-year history as COVID-19 decimated other linchpin industries such as construction, shipping and tourism, Singapore’s healthcare and life science sector stands out as having played a vital role in offsetting a seven percent contraction in GDP and helping keep the national economy afloat.

“The performance of our biopharmaceutical industry definitely deserves recognition as a bright spot in 2020 accounting for five percent of GDP and generating about USD 22 billion in total output,” recalls Ashish D. Pal, managing director of the Singapore, Malaysia & Brunei Cluster at MSD and president of the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries (SAPI).

Facts & Figures

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2021. Healthcare & Life Sciences Review was produced by Pharmaboardroom.

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Report Director: Julija Lukaityte
Report Assistant: Anoushka Dhivare
Senior Editor: Patrick Burton, Louis Haynes
Publisher: Diana Viola
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