Biotech Industry

MP He Ting Ru

Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang): Thank you, Sir. Mr Chairman, it was evident during the global panic in the earlier phases of the pandemic that Singapore has to be self-reliant with resources to combat and resist the spread of the next wave of infectious diseases, and that it is important to have a strong biotech and biomedical industry of our own.

Our efforts to promote and grow the sector have been in place since 2000. And we have seen increases in manufacturing value add and growth in jobs in the sector. Indeed, figures from 2018 showed that we employ five times more biomedical researchers per capita than the US. The sector also was a bright spot during the economic hard times of the pandemic years.

It is also the case that the Government has invested a lot in the sector. The sector does well when it comes to manufacturing, although commentators have said that there is room for improvements for innovation capability.

Yet, in spite of this view, some of our biotech enterprises are doing promising, innovative work in interesting areas. For example, as Singaporeans, we are proud of our food heritage and it seems a match made in heaven for our companies to focus on what is going into our bodies and how our bodies react to what we consume. Thus, the research and innovative work done by startups and early stage companies into precision gut microbiomes here in Singapore deserves our full support.

I believe that there are currently efforts to maintain Southeast Asia’s first and only gut microbiome transplant bank, along with building the world’s largest multi-ethnic Asian gut microbiome database. The gut microbiome is neglected at our own peril, as it has also been found to play important roles in regulating our immune systems and controlling brain health and function.

This field therefore appears to hold promise when it comes to providing insight tailored to the specificities of a population and has implications for more efficient use of our resources in our health efforts, from developing effective preventive health strategies to managing or minimising chronic illness, to having more tailored and accurate public education advice when it comes to dietary habits suited to the genetics of our mostly Asian population.

The work is cutting edge and is especially cogent in light of the launch of Healthier SG last year. It would also make sense to have such knowledge and input be taken on board into our public health systems in an age of rising health and other care costs.

Are our systems sufficiently set up to be able to support such companies to be able to first secure the necessary funding to first research, then develop and market cutting edge products for us to export to the rest of the world?

While I note Minister of State Low Yen Ling’s reply to me in a Parliamentary Question (PQ) outlining the steps taken to address concerns over potential manpower and talent shortages, particularly at the senior, C-suite levels, I would like further clarification about the success rate of our schemes after more than two decades in training Singaporeans to equip enough of us with the right skillsets to be able to found, lead and expand our companies to make Singapore a prominent player within the biomedical and biotech fields.

Ministry of Trade and Industry
28 February 2023

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