Introduction to Biotechnology in Singapore

Primary Analyst: Isabel Angulo
Group Leader: Mary Peplinski


        Singapore is a sovereign city-state located on an island off of the coast of Southern Malaysia. It is a global financial center occupied by a multicultural population with the largest biotech cluster in South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region. The majority of Singapore’s exports has evolved from and is centered on labour-intensive work to high value-added products, such as biomedical, chemicals and electronics. Singapore’s utilitarian macroeconomic policy, legal environment and a steady political structure have resulted in a strong and dynamic economy for the country. Biotechnology is a rapidly growing sector of the economy in Singapore. Biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help combat diseases, protect the environment and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.


        The government in Singapore is based on the Westminster system that is structured by 3 separate branches: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Singapore’s electoral system is like that of most Commonwealth nations. A seat in Parliament is won by the candidate who is “first past the post”. The leader of the party that wins the most seats becomes the Prime Minister. The President of Singapore is also elected and acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. Singapore’s head of government and the executive branch is the Prime Minister. Lee Hsien Loong has been the Prime Minister of Singapore since 2004. In September 2017, Halimah Yacob was named Singapore’s first female President after no other contenders ran for the position. Mr S Iswaran is the Minister for Trade and Industry and oversees the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and the Energy Market Authority. Unique to Singapore is the Group Representation Constituency (GRC). Introduced in 1988, GRCs are represented by teams of candidates, rather than single candidates. This is to ensure minority representation in Parliament − at least one MP in each GRC must be a member of the Malay, Indian or other minority community of Singapore.


        In August 1965 Malaysia’s parliament voted to expel Singapore from the federation. Malaysian leaders felt that Singapore’s predominantly Chinese populace threatened their country’s Malay heritage, and feared the new state would suck wealth from the mainland. Since Singapore became independent, the country’s economy has continued to grow. From 2000 to 2010, the country’s GDP almost doubled, growing from 163 billion dollars to 304 billion dollars. Singapore’s economic strategies and policies are constantly evolving and being re-evaluated to acknowledge areas of vulnerability.


        As the largest biotechnology cluster in the region, Singapore’s government has been influential in attracting companies by providing incentives and collaborative opportunities for companies and organizations. The country has recently contributed around $16.1 billion to support research and innovations in the biotech industry. However, Singapore is often overshadowed by China and Malaysia. Although it currently has strong per-capita metrics, other countries could present larger outright opportunities. In order to combat this, the government has funded the development of two major "Biotech Parks" providing infrastructure, tax breaks and other incentives to foreign firms encouraging them to build factories and manufacture therapeutics in Singapore. Several major bio-pharmaceutical companies have made Singapore their global manufacturing base. Companies including Abbott, GSK, Lonza, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi operate multi-purpose facilities in Singapore. The country also serves as the manufacturing base for biologics manufacturing with Baxter, Genentech (now Roche), Lonza and GSK.