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In 2000, Singapore launched its biomedical science initiative to
build basic research capabilities and attract multinational corporations.
Top scientists were brought in to set up biomedical research institutes.
Biopolis was set up in 2003 to be the headquarters for both these
institutes and the corporate labs.
Today, the country is moving into its next phase, as a center for trans-
lational and clinical research.
"There's the opportunity to study diseases here that are common in
Asian populations [such as certain types of cancer] but not as common
in the West, and therefore not well studied by researchers in Europe
and North America," says Andre Wan, deputy
executive director of A*STAR Biomedical
Since 2006, A*STAR
has been working
with the Ministry of Health and local hospitals to create the network to
support "bench-to-bedside" research. S$1.5 billion has been set aside
over five years to develop the infrastructure and research programs.
Certain diseases and branches of medicine have been identified as
high-priority: cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, neurosci-
ences, infectious diseases and ophthalmology. Work in gastric cancer,
glaucoma and severe psychotic disorders has already begun.
Singapore hosted its first "first-in-man" clinical trial in 2006, when
health-care company Abbott tested a small-molecule drug for treating
advanced stages of lung cancer---a coup for the country, as the tradi-
tional centers for early-phase clinical trials are in US and Europe. The
success of the trials has led Abbott to select Singapore as one of the
locations for the drug's phase 2 clinical trials.
Research from A*STAR biomedical research institutes is also feeding
into the local biotech industry. Veredus is one such success. Founder
Rosemary Tan licensed a technique for malaria detection from the Insti-
tute of Molecular and Cell Biology. Together with the Genome Institute of
Singapore, they developed a testing kit for avian influenza that was re-
leased commercially in 2005. The World Health Organization deemed the
kit the most accurate and reliable available, and the US Navy acquired it
for onboard flu testing facilities. More recently, the company collaborated
with STMicroelectronics, a European semiconductor company, to develop
VereFlu, a lab-on-a-chip designed to detect and identify all subtypes of
human influenza. The chip was released commercially in 2008.
New local innovations in medical technology are also contributing
to the country's growing biomedical manufacturing sector. SPRING
Singapore has channeled assistance to help local companies seize these
developers. The latter can now focus on creating
compelling games, while taping on Garena's in-
novation for multiplayer games.
The Singapore government is dedicating about
S$500 million over the next five years to encour-
age the growth of interactive and digital media.
"This will help Singapore achieve our vision of
becoming a global media city," says Tan Chin Nam,
chairman of MDA.
Since the setup of the IDM PO Office two
years ago to oversee R&D initiatives and develop a
complete ecosystem to grow the sector, significant
headway has been achieved. Milestones include
local media, companies embracing new media as
with SPH's Razor TV. Early-stage funding is also
provided to encourage innovation by startups.
Some have attracted private investor funding to
take their ideas to the next stage.
Last year, 94 projects were supported, which
will deliver some 100 patents and new services.
One key focus is to develop pedagogical
breakthroughs based on IDM-based teaching
approaches, tools, and media. The hope is that all
schools in Singapore will be able to embrace IDM
for more effective teaching and learning. Six local
schools have been designated as FutureSchools
for pilot projects.
The IDM PO Office also aims to attract re-
nowned international institutes to partner with local
universities. For instance, MIT has set up GAMBIT
GameLab in Singapore to conduct research ad-
dressing the challenges faced by the global digital
game research industry. The National University of
Singapore (NUS) has partnered with Japan's Keio
University to explore the use of media in nontradi-
tional settings, such as an umbrella that tracks its
Mozat, a company spun off from the National
University of Singapore, aims to link the developing
world to the Internet through mobile phone tech-
nology. "For a lot of people, their first experience
on the Internet is not on a PC, it's on the mobile
phone," says Michael Yin, Mozat's CEO.
The browsers on many mobile phones are
limited, however, and often the price of the
Internet-friendly phones places them out of reach
of Mozat's chosen market. The challenge in creat-
ing a single navigation method that works across
all sorts of phones is that there are many different
So Mozat creates a base on which different
applications can be built. Yin hooks the phone to
a screen and pulls up the application. He easily
runs through e-mail, toggles between Chinese and
English, and pulls up a web page. The technologies
developed fit a mobile phone's speed and screen
size. Information is stored not on the phone, but on
Mozat's goal is to license the technology to
phone carriers. "Imagine a little boy, isolated on an
Indonesian island: he deserves to have the same
opportunities as boys in the United States who
access the Internet on a PC," says Yin. "We want to
mobilize the future."
Commenting on IDM PO, Tan says, "We're
confident that this program will generate many
exciting products and services. It will certainly help
position Singapore as a preferred location for
breakthrough R&D in IDM."
Life sciences, health and wellness
Lab-on-chip by Veredus and STMicroelectronics
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