The biotechnology sector will play a key role in developing Singapore's future economy, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon said yesterday.
"The key driver of the new economy is innovation," he said on the sidelines of a visit to the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). "Therefore, the biotech sector, which is very rich in intellectual property and deep in technology, will be an important sector to drive the future economy."
Between 2015 and last year, 32 local biotech start-up firms were set up - double the number incorporated between 2012 and 2014.
Dr Koh added that nearly a quarter of the 79 home-grown biotech firms operating here last year were spin-offs from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).
"This is a good momentum and something that we would like to encourage and support," he said. "But in order to make this a lasting and sustainable approach, we need to look at how we can grow this beyond just the A*Star ecosystem and integrate larger parts of our healthcare and biomedical system."
Dr Koh visited the GIS laboratories with Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Tan Wu Meng. GIS is one of 18 research institutes under A*Star.
Earlier this year, A*Star said it was changing its funding model to place more emphasis on institutes that collaborate with industry. Those that focus on basic science research will have to work even harder to ensure they survive.
Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*Star's Biomedical Research Council, said it has taken Singapore biotech companies about 15 years to get to where they are today, where venture capital is flowing in and research findings are starting to bear commercial fruit.
"We have come a very long way just in the past three to four years, and it is probably not a very long way before we see the major, initial commercial successes," he said.
One of these local start-ups, One BioMed, was founded by Dr Park Mi-kyoung, who worked at A*Star's Institute of Microelectronics. The firm shares a joint lab with GIS and is working on a rapid, cost-effective test kit to diagnose infectious diseases such as drug-resistant tuberculosis and mosquito-borne illnesses.
"We have fairly limited capital and for us to build our own lab would be fairly expensive. Coming here, we don't need to build everything from the beginning," she said, adding that the collaboration also allows One BioMed to tap GIS' expertise.