A*STAR Chairman: Asia Is The Place To Be For Research & Innovation

Asia is the place to be right now for research and innovation, says A*STAR chairman Mr. Lim Chuan Poh.

AsianScientist (Dec. 23, 2013) – Asia is the place to be right now for research and innovation, says A*STAR chairman Mr. Lim Chuan Poh.

Mr. Lim was speaking at the inaugural Asian summit of the Technology Transfer Summit Global Initiative, held on December 5-6, 2013, to an audience of academics and C-level executives. Attendees included representatives from technology transfer organizations, biotech companies and early-stage entities.

The rise of Asia as a base of innovation

Just as the global center of gravity in manufacturing has shifted east in the last two decades, a power shift is likewise underway in research and innovation.

Although the West has dominated much of research and innovation in the past, we may now be witnessing a reversal of this trend, says Mr. Lim. This is in part due to the subdued economic growth in the West, coupled with a significant transformation in the economic and financial power of emerging economies.

While advanced economies in the West have dominated research and innovation and will continue to do so for some time, R&D spending in Asia has already exceeded that of EU or the US, says Mr. Lim. A large part of this is quite simply the faster relative growth in Asia over the other advanced economies. An emerging Asia, led by fast-growing economies like China and India, is expected to enjoy annual growth rates of 7-8 percent over the next five to ten years, which is more than double the rate of the developed world, says Mr. Lim.

In 2011, the Organization for Economic C-operation and Development reported that business expenditure on R&D in Asia has surpassed the US and overtook that of Europe earlier. It predicted that if spending in Asia continues at this aggressive rate without a corresponding increase in the West, by 2017 the total gross domestic expenditure on R&D by Asian countries could exceed combined US and European spending by a factor of two.

“The combined effects of lower production and research costs, availability of a sizable and highly trained talent pool, and access to large and previously untapped markets are to make Asia a very compelling location for the whole spectrum of activities from research to innovation to production in the market for the market and the rest of the world,” says Mr. Lim.

Asia’s value proposition

The governments of some leading Asian nations are committed to increasing their innovation capabilities and capacities, says Mr. Lim. These rapid investments in R&D have led to increased participation in patent activity across Asia, with the number of citations per paper in many biomedical science (BMS) sectors like clinical medicine rising significantly.

This year, the World Academic Summit Innovation Index showed that companies in South Korea are investing the equivalent of US$98,000 on each academic to carry out research on their behalf. Singapore is in second place, bringing in an average of US$85,000 per academic. Given these commitments and global trends, Asia is set to be the largest pharmaceutical market in the world, with many Asian countries emerging as powerhouses of this industry, says Mr. Lim.

Countries like South Korea, which began establishing its biotechnology industry in the 1980s, is now enjoying a return on their investments, says Mr. Lim. It has about 850 biotech companies and ranks 11th globally in terms of scientific publication between 2006 and 2010. It has 13 investigational new drug applications successfully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, and aims to become one of the world’s top seven biotech powerhouses by 2016 and a global hub for clinical trials. To this end, the South Korean government continues to be committed and has invested US$1.28 billion in BMS R&D in 2012. The South Korean government also incentivizes innovative pharmaceutical companies by giving them priority for state-funded R&D projects, along with tax incentives and preferential market pricing.

China seeks to transform itself from a manufacturing base to an innovation hub, and has invested heavily towards that goal, says Mr. Lim. China has invested a cumulative US$160 billion on biomedicine and is poised to surpass Japan as the second-largest spender on R&D. This investment is paying off with exponential increases in pharmaceutical-related patent filings. 15 new drug innovation centers and clusters have also been set up, with super-clusters forming around five major provinces.

Singapore’s role in the Asian biomedical sciences ecosystem

“Key factors that impact market entry to Asia include regulatory policy, pricing, healthcare financing and the availability of trained personnel,” says Mr. Lim.

Singapore is a well-connected global city and its convenient central location in the market allows companies access to research, innovation and manufacturing within a very compact area of 700 square kilometers, he says. Singapore is also recognized for its business friendly environment with highly efficient customs and import/export procedures, allowing time-sensitive pharmaceutical and biotechnology products to be transported efficiently into the region.

“The extensive healthcare and regulatory expertise, strong intellectual property regime and the ability to attract top-notch international talent, are unique value propositions that make us attractive as a launch pad to the region,” says Mr. Lim. “After a decade of dedicated investment in BMS R&D, we are at an inflection point where we are starting to reap the benefits.”

Collectively, more than S$1.5 billion is spent on biomedical R&D annually in Singapore, he says. From 2008 to 2012, A*STAR alone has undertaken more than 7,400 industry-related R&D projects which has brought in about S$690 million in industry funding. Within this, the number of BMS related projects, albeit starting from a lower base, has increased multiple-fold in the past two years and is expected to significantly increase in the next five years. The number of biomedical licensing deals and spin offs have also more than doubled in the past three years. This growth is likely to continue along this trajectory for the next few years.

“Singapore also embraces a much more open innovation approach through fostering public-private partnerships with both MNCs and local companies. This is both recognition of our constraint of a small population and turning this constraint on its head by also seeking partners from around the world,” says Mr. Lim.

Technology transfer is a core focus in translating bench to bedside, and Singapore seeks to increase the value proposition of its technologies by developing thematic intellectual property (IP) portfolios. An example of such a thematic IP portfolio is the Innovation Cluster Program. Under this program, Singapore will invest S$60 million over five years to establish a Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub. The DxD Hub will accelerate the transformation of diagnostic-related IPs into clinically-validated diagnostic devices that are ready for subsequent market adoption. With the DxD Hub, Singapore seeks to become a global nucleus for the development of selected diagnostic solutions for dominant Asian diseases.

“We believe that Singapore can be a valuable partner to any company who wants to access this market through research and innovation. Our value proposition lies in our excellent R&D, our access to an internationally rich and diverse talent pool, our ability to execute well and our approach of forming public-private partnerships under an open innovation framework,” says Mr. Lim.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Iorek/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Sarah has a PhD degree in biomedical sciences. She hops on a plane or dive boat every chance she gets, and firmly believes that “one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”

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