Biomed start-up Hummingbird Bioscience opens new facility to boost its R&D work

DPM Heng Swee Keat (centre) at the opening of Hummingbird Bioscience’s new facility with CEO Piers Ingram (left) and its chief scientific officer Jerome Boyd-Kirkup. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Singapore-based biomedical start-up Hummingbird Bioscience, which specialises in developing antibodies for cancer treatment, on Friday launched a new facility to expand its scientific, and research and development capabilities.

The 40,000 sq ft facility in Science Park features more than 10 state-of-the-art laboratories for biotherapeutics research, and has room to hire more research scientists and managers of clinical pharmacology, the study of drugs in humans.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the guest of honour at the opening ceremony, noted that the company has come a "long way" since it started in 2015, with headcount doubling in less than a year to 150 people.

It is now a leading start-up in precision treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases.

"These diseases are traditionally difficult to treat, but with data science and next-generation therapies, you are opening new possibilities for patients," he told its staff.

Mr Heng noted that the biomedical sciences are now a key pillar in Singapore's manufacturing economy, accounting for almost 3.3 per cent of local gross domestic product and employing more than 25,000 workers as at last year.

He added that there are more than 40 therapeutic biotech companies here, with Singapore-based biotech firms collectively raising more than $860 million last year.

Hummingbird Bioscience last year secured US$125 million (S$177 million) in funding, the largest biotech deal here despite the challenging conditions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, noted Mr Heng.

Dr Lisa Ooi, Hummingbird Bioscience's vice-president of strategy, told The Straits Times that the company focuses mainly on developing antibodies to target proteins which are produced by cancer cells, and found on the surface of cancer cells, as well as proteins which support the growth and survival of cancer cells.

The company currently has two drugs undergoing clinical trials .

The first, HMBD-001, is an antibody which targets the HER3 protein that drives tumour growth and resistance against cancer drugs. The protein is present in many solid cancers like breast, lung and colorectal cancers, said Dr Ooi.

"While many companies have tried to develop drug therapies against the HER3 protein, many of their antibody treatments were not able to target the 'sweet spot' of the protein, or its Achilles heel, which Hummingbird has done," she added.

The second drug undergoing clinical trials - HMBD-002 - is an antibody which enhances the ability of immune cells to fight these solid cancers.

This could potentially improve the overall efficacy rate of immunotherapy, a new type of treatment which has generally reduced side effects compared with chemotherapy, she added.

Clinical trials are currently underway with pharmaceutical giant Merck for HMBD-002, in combination with Merck's antibody drug pembrolizumab, in patients with specific types of breast and lung cancers.

"The decision for Hummingbird to take root in Singapore in 2015 is testament to the fact that Singapore is a talent magnet in the biomedical sector, and we look forward to more collaborations with local hospitals, research institutes and other higher institutes of learning here," said Dr Ooi.

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