Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology Singapore


At a time when pharmaceutical and biotechnology businesses around the world are grappling with declining R&D productivity, Singapore’s integrated research ecosystem enables companies to access multidisciplinary capabilities in a single location, which improves R&D decision-making and accelerates drug discovery and development. More than 30 of the world’s leading biomedical sciences companies (including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis and Takeda) are leveraging Singapore as a key home base to drive innovation, growing the nation’s biopharmaceutical industry by more than 30 per cent in 2011. 

The multi-ethnic city-state which is the leading logistics hub globally and has world class intellectual property protection, is now Asia’s fastest-growing bio-cluster, presenting strategic partnership opportunities with research institutes, corporate labs and public hospitals to develop new medicines and future therapies that can be customised for regional and global markets. 



Focused on developing a vibrant biomedical sciences research ecosystem, Singapore has built up a strong scientific foundation with seven research institutes and five research consortia in key fields that include clinical sciences, genomics, bioengineering, molecular/cell biology, medical biology, bio-imaging and immunology. More than 50 companies are carrying out biomedical sciences R&D that includes drug discovery, translational and clinical research, frequently collaborating with these research institutes.  

The city-state has also made significant progress in translational and clinical research. It has built up key infrastructure such as the Investigational Medicine Units dedicated for early-phase trials in public hospitals, as well as the Singapore Clinical Research Institute, which focuses on supporting later-stage trials. These facilities will in turn support the growing community of clinician scientists in Singapore.

New therapies and technologies are constantly made available by clinical research engaged by our hospitals and national speciality centres, in collaboration with some of the world’s top medical institutes, pharmaceutical and medical technology firms. In addition, important leads to new therapies that benefit patients are being discovered through world-class scientific research fostered by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and its biomedical research institutes.

In the years ahead, as Singapore builds on its foundation in good science and capabilities in translational and clinical research, the city-state is well positioned to support the industry in its efforts to accelerate the drug discovery process with next-generation technologies, while focusing on key diseases such as cancer, metabolic diseases, neurological diseases, infectious diseases and eye diseases.


Singapore is reputed for its clinical research and clinical trials management activities in Asia. As the secretariat for the APEC Coordinating Centre for Good Clinical Practice (GCP), Singapore plays a strategic role in developing GCP in Asia, steering initiatives such as the training of clinical research personnel and developing a conducive environment for multi-site clinical trials in the region. 

These factors have attracted many global pharmaceutical brands to set up their regional clinical trial centres in Singapore. These include Sanofi-Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline, MSD, Novartis, and Sanofi. 

Making advancements in cancer research in Singapore is the NUS Cancer Science Institute which develops novel therapy for cancer through clinical trials. The CTRG is a multi-institutional research collaboration of which a few key institutions are the National University Hospital/National University of Singapore, Sydney Cancer Centre/University of Sydney, Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre, Chinese University of Hong Kong and National Cancer Centre, Singapore. 

Several Contract Research Organisations (CROs) have also established operations in Singapore to support the pharmaceutical firms’ growing outsourcing needs. These include global CROs Covance, Quintiles and ICON which manage regional clinical trials from the city-state. These international CROs offer a wide range of services, ranging from Phase I to pharmacovigilance studies. Some are also setting up innovative biomarker discovery and validation services to support their clients.

Biotechnology Singapore

A core of clinician scientists has been built up in Singapore through initiatives such as the Singapore Translational Research (STaR) Investigator Award, which is designed to recruit and nurture world-class clinician scientists to undertake translational and clinical research in Singapore, as well as the Clinician Scientist Award (CSA), which provides research funding and salary support to enable medical researchers to devote more time to research. 

Other initiatives to grow this base of clinician scientists include:

  • The Translational & Clinical Research (TCR) Flagship Programme which presents a platform for researchers and clinician scientists to collaborate in solving scientific problems and translate their research into quality healthcare solutions for patients (bench-to-bed solutions). Each awarded TCR flagship programme comes with a five-year budget of up to S$25 million. 
  • The Competitive Research Programme (CRP) is a funding scheme that supports a broad base of research ideas, through a competitive bottom-up approach. The scheme supports R&D programmes that help to identify new potential strategic research areas in which Singapore can invest to develop core capabilities for new industries of the future, including those in the biomedical sciences translational and clinical research areas. Each award is for a maximum of S$10 million per programme, over three to five years. 
  • The Health Services Research Competitive Research Grants (HSR-CRGs) is a Ministry Of Health (MOH) research grant established in 2009 to promote the conduct of HSR and enable the translation of HSR findings into policy and practice. Principal Investigators (PIs) from local public healthcare or academic institutions are eligible for this grant which provides a maximum of S$1 million over a two-year period. 

In addition, the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Advisory Council (BMAC), an industry-government group comprising of local pharmaceutical plant site directors and government agencies, underscores Singapore’s commitment to lead the manufacturing curve with a highly-skilled manufacturing workforce, a track record of quality and process development capabilities by upgrading employees’ skills, training new workers and promoting best practices.


Singapore seeks to provide a pro-innovation environment that facilitates the development of innovative therapies, while ensuring global standards of safety, quality and efficacy. This is bolstered by the active involvement of the Singapore Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in defining new regulatory frameworks and pursuing new areas of research in regulatory sciences over the years. In 2009, the HSA Academy was set up to foster greater synergies across the agency’s unique conglomeration of diverse scientific and biomedical capabilities. More importantly, it would also serve as an enabler for growing thought leadership in Singapore. In addition to organising scientific meetings and symposia, the academy also seeks to facilitate discussions on cutting edge issues in the forensic and analytical sciences, regulatory science and transfusion medicine.

In 2011, HSA joined hands with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT’s) Center for Biomedical Innovation and five other companies – Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Life Technologies, Pfizer and Quintiles ¬– in its NEWDiGs (New Drug Development ParadIGmS) programme for demonstration projects in regulatory science and oncology innovation. NEWDiGs will also evaluate components of more flexible and adaptive regulatory models with an initial focus on Progressive Authorisation.
HSA has also forged MOUs with leading regulatory agencies around the world including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, China’s State Food and Drug Administration and UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

In 2009, Singapore was also accepted into OECD’s Mutual Acceptance of Data framework that enables data from GLP-compliant preclinical trials conducted in Singapore to be accepted by 30 OECD and non-OECD members including the US, EU and Japan.


Over the past 20 years, Singapore has steadily built a strong foundation of basic and clinical research through its biomedical research institutes under A*STAR which have gained the regard of the global scientific community. 

Bioinformatics Institute
The Bioinformatics Institute (BII) was established as the computational biology research and postgraduate training institute as well as a national resource centre in bioinformatics. The BII focuses on theoretical approaches aimed at understanding biomolecular mechanisms that underlie biological phenomena, the development of computational methods to support this discovery process, and experimental verification of predicted molecular and cellular functions of genes and proteins with biochemical methods.

Bioprocessing Technology Institute
The Bioprocessing Technology Institute’s (BTI) mission is to develop manpower capabilities and establish cutting-edge technologies relevant to the bioprocess community. Spearheading bioprocess R&D, the BTI has core expertise in expression engineering, animal cell technology, stem cells, microbial fermentation, product characterisation, downstream processing, purification and stability, with supporting proteomics and microarray platform technologies. BTI, with its R&D and its GMP manufacturing capabilities, bridges the gaps between discovery, process development and commercialisation. 

Genome Institute of Singapore
Established in June 2000, the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) is a national flagship initiative with a global vision that seeks to use genomic sciences to improve public health and prosperity. As a centre for genomic discovery, GIS pursues the integration of technology, genetics, and biology towards the goal of individualised medicine. Its scientific focus is to investigate post-sequence genomics; to understand the genetic architecture of pan-Asian populations with emphasis on cancer biology, pharmacogenomics, stem cell biology and infectious diseases.

Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology
The Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) spearheads the advancement of biomedical sciences in Singapore. Positioned at the interface of two frontiers of engineering, IBN is focused on creating knowledge and cultivating talent to develop technology platforms that will spur the growth of new industries.

Since 2003, the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) has carved out a unique niche at the interface of bioengineering and nanotechnology with its impactful research. IBN is helmed by Executive Director, Professor Jackie Ying, who was a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1992 - 2005). Under her direction, IBN conducts research at the cutting-edge of bioengineering and nanotechnology. Its programs are geared towards linking multiple disciplines across engineering, science and medicine to produce research breakthroughs that will improve healthcare and our quality of life.

Research Capabilities

  • Drug and Gene Delivery 
  • Cell and Tissue Engineering 
  • Biosensors and Biodevices 
  • Pharmaceuticals Synthesis and Nanobiotechnologies

Institute of Medical Biology
The Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) has a strategic, programme-directed portfolio of research focused on issues at the critical interface between basic science and medicine. It aims to facilitate the development of translational research by building bridges between clinical and basic science. 

IMB currently hosts research programmes concerned with different aspects of human diseases. Programmes include the Singapore Onco-Genome project, Regenerative Medicine, Papillomavirology, Epithelial Biology and the Lab of Stem Cell Biology from the Singapore Stem Cell Consortium (SSCC). IMB helps scientists and clinicians work closely together to support, inform and refine each other’s strengths and specialisations to increase the efficiency of the translation process, and ultimately contribute towards a better quality of life. 

Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology
The Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) was established to help develop and support biomedical R&D capabilities in Singapore. Today, IMCB has established itself as a world-class research institute in biomedical sciences with research activities focusing on six major fields: Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Structural Biology, Infectious Diseases, Cancer Biology and Translational Research with core strengths in cell cycling, cell signalling, cell death, cell motility and protein trafficking. 

IMCB’s recent achievements include being part of an international consortium that successfully sequenced the entire pufferfish (Fugu) genome—a world’s first. IMCB was also awarded the Nikkei Prize 2000 for Technological Innovation, in recognition of its growth into a leading international research centre and its collaboration with industry and research institutes world-wide. 

Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences
The Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) mission is the development of disease-oriented clinical and translational research programs in focused disease areas. SICS is distinguished by its focus on clinical sciences and the use of innovative approaches and technologies that enable the efficient and effective study of human health and diseases. The institute aims to attract, train and nurture clinician-scientists and serve as a critical bridge linking basic research undertaken by A*STAR Research Institutes and clinical research programmes in Singapore’s public hospitals, disease centres and universities. 

Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology

Presenting a stellar bio-cluster in Asia, Singapore has established a strong track record and foundation in biomedical sciences manufacturing and R&D activities. In addition, Singapore provides diverse partnership opportunities with its public-sector research institutes, base of leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, clinical-research units in hospitals and international research organisations. 

For example, Roche established its Singapore Hub for Translational Medicine (CHF 100 million) with 30 scientists on board to partner with Singapore’s scientific and medical institutions. The multi-disciplinary team aims to generate insights into disease biology to accelerate drug discovery and development. 

Bayer Healthcare invested an additional S$14.5 million in five projects with local academic institutions to advance R&D to improve early diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) established its first Academic Centre of Excellence in Singapore and its first four projects focusing on early-stage research in ophthalmology, regenerative medicine and neuro-degeneration to elucidate new mechanisms of action for innovative medicines. 

Today, Singapore has established world-class scientific and clinical excellence that enables pre-clinical development in mouse models and early-phase clinical testing of novel drug candidates to be carried out in one location. In 2011, Maccine inked a collaboration with A*STAR’s Singapore Bioimaging Consortium to form a comprehensive Translational Imaging Industrial Lab (TIIL) to push the boundaries in state-of-the-art preclinical imaging to enhance the drug development process. 

Meanwhile, Siena Biotech is partnering A*STAR’s Experimental Therapeutics Centre to develop molecular inhibitors of a major signalling pathway in oncology to target difficult-to-treat forms of cancer such as gastric cancer, leukaemia and brain tumours. Humalys SAS and Cytos Biotechnology are working with the Singapore Immunology Network to develop antibody-based therapies for infectious diseases that are prevalent in Asia. 

Also partnering with A*STAR, research institutes and hospitals, Novartis (which houses more than 100 researchers from 18 nationalities at the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases) teamed up with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and The Scripps Research Institute. Together, they have discovered a new drug against malaria called spiroindolone NITD609. This breakthrough comes at a time when drug-resistant strains are becoming an increasing threat in the region due to irrational drug use and poor-quality or counterfeit medicine. 

Singapore’s strong and growing process R&D capabilities are also helping companies based here to break new ground in both small-molecule and biologics production. A major collaboration between a Singapore public institute and a leading pharmaceutical company is the S$2 million public-private partnership between GSK Biologicals and A*STAR’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute to collaborate on vaccine and adjuvant system-related research projects. In 2009, Singapore’s Institute of Chemical and Engineering Services (ICES) opened a pilot-scale laboratory facility that will enable greater collaborations with pharmaceutical companies in process development.

Biotechnology industry in Singapore

Attracted by the excellent physical and regulatory infrastructure, global connectivity and skilled manpower available in Singapore, many leading biopharmaceutical companies (including Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis) have chosen to make Singapore their global manufacturing base. These companies operate multi-purpose plants with the capability to manufacture a wide range of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), biologics and nutritionals. The country has also made significant inroads in biologics manufacturing, with Baxter, Lonza, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche announcing their investments to set up major biologics facilities that amount to US$2 billion in capital expenditure. To date, all pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities that have commenced commercial operations have received validation from international regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA). 

Convinced of Singapore’s competitive advantages, many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have diversified their operations over the years to include other manufacturing activities besides APIs. Key examples include:

  • GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) presented close to S$8 million in research funding to 14 principal investigators under the GSK-Singapore Partnership for Green and Sustainable Manufacturing (GSM) in 2011. This was the second round of projects to be awarded research funding under the S$33 million GSK-Singapore Partnership for Green & Sustainable Manufacturing and the principal investigators will be conducting research in the areas of chemical-, physical- and bio-transformations, facilities and supply chain, equipment and technical operations, life cycle assessment, and solvent selection and optimisation. The GSK-Singapore Partnership for Green & Sustainable Manufacturing seeks to develop innovative solutions as the global pharmaceutical industry grapple with the need to enhance sustainability and optimise their global operations.
  • Lonza invested CHF 10 million to expand its biopharmaceutical development services platform in Singapore in 2011. Lonza’s Development Services business, the front-end of the biological mammalian custom manufacturing process, offers customised and innovative services used in the development of robust biomanufacturing processes. The expansion in Singapore will consist of the addition of 1858 m² of state-of-the-art laboratory space and associated equipment, and will support cell line construction, upstream and downstream process development, and a broad range of analytical services. The facility will integrate seamlessly with Lonza’s biological manufacturing facility in Singapore, creating a full-service biopharmaceutical development and manufacturing site that offers customers a complete range of services from development through pre-clinical and small-scale manufacturing, all the way through to large-scale commercial supply.
  • Abbott’s S$450 million nutritional powder manufacturing plant in Singapore, its first major capital investment in Asia and its largest nutritional investment to date. This S$450 million state-of-the-art facility was completed in April 2008 to meet the increased demand for Abbott Nutritional Products in the region. The Singapore facility will produce over 45 million kgs of powder nutritional products a year, including hallmark Abbott brands including Similac Advance® infant formula, Gain® growing-up milk for older babies and toddlers, Pediasure® and Grow®.

Singapore remains committed to developing a manpower base that is ready for manufacturing requirements of the future. The pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturing sector in Singapore is currently supported by a growing base of more than 4,800 skilled engineers and technicians. Companies can also access a workforce of more than 300,000 skilled employees in related sectors (e.g. chemicals, electronics, engineering).

Representing a thriving sector of Singapore’s economic growth, the biopharmaceutical sector contributed about S$22.8 billion in output and over 6,000 jobs in 2011. Compared to 2010, the biopharmaceutical sector expanded by more than 30% in 2011. According to Datamonitor, Singapore was the third fastest growing nation globally in the export of pharmaceutical goods from 2000 to 2010. 

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