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Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Launch of NSG BioLabs

Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Launch of NSG BioLabs

Ms Daphne Teo, CEO and Founder, NSG BioLabs, 
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It gives me great pleasure to join you this morning for the opening of NSG BioLabs. NSG BioLabs is the first private biotech incubator in Singapore, providing startups with access to infrastructure, mentorship and networks. This marks a new milestone in Singapore’s biomedical sciences (BMS) journey.

2. Progress in biomedical sciences is accelerating. Advances in areas such as gene editing, stem cell manipulation and immunology have fuelled the development of next-generation therapeutic approaches globally.  For example, in 2018 alone, more than 150 investigational new drugs applications were filed for gene therapy with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER). These trends present significant opportunities for Singapore.

Singapore’s Journey in Growing the Biotech Startup Ecosystem

3. Singapore’s BMS journey started in 2000 with the aim of developing the life sciences as one of the key pillars of Singapore’s economy. Our vision was for Singapore to become the BMS R&D hub of Asia. Over the years, through consistent Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) funding, we have established strong fundamentals in biomedical research, built up our translational and clinical research capability to translate scientific discoveries from bench to bedside, and integrated public research with the rest of the innovation ecosystem. Today, 4 of the world’s top 10 medicines are manufactured in Singapore, and the industry is an integral part of the Singapore economy, making up almost 4% of our GDP, and employing over 22,000 workers. 

4. One key area we have invested in is infrastructure. We developed Biopolis in 2003 as a purpose-built biomedical research hub. Today it is home to 9 A*STAR biomedical research institutes and over 60 companies, with a vibrant R&D ecosystem and thousands of employees undertaking research, clinical trials, and commercialisation of new scientific discoveries. The co-location of research institutes and companies within Biopolis, and its proximity to the LaunchPad @ one-north startup ecosystem, facilitates collaborations such as the setting up of joint labs. This allows companies to access talent and cutting-edge R&D infrastructure in Biopolis, while strengthening their presence in Singapore as they scale up their operations. 

5. In particular, startups are one important avenue for us to unlock the commercial value of our research and development efforts by bringing novel solutions to market. They complement the efforts of larger companies, and enhance the vibrancy and competitiveness of our biomedical ecosystem.

6. We have seen some early successes in our biotech startup scene. From 2010 to 2018, more than 80 local biotech startups were incorporated. One example is Tessa Therapeutics, a biotech startup focusing on developing drugs that harness the body’s anti-viral immune response to target solid tumours and treat cancer. Founded in 2011 in Singapore, Tessa Therapeutics is leading the world’s first T-cell Phase 3 clinical trial against solid tumour, and raised over US$130 mil in its latest funding round led by Temasek last year. The company has a joint lab with A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular Biology (IMCB) at Biopolis and acquired an A*STAR spin-off Euchloe Bio which was developing antibodies to treat cancer. 

Continued Government Support for Biotech Startups

7. The Government will continue to strengthen the ecosystem to better support biotech startups in their journey.

8. JTC plans to further develop Biopolis to meet startups’ needs. As biotech startups find it difficult to access wet labs after they graduate from incubator or accelerator spaces, and the capital investment is high for startups to develop their own wet labs, we will address this in Phase 6 of Biopolis, which is targeted to be completed by mid-2022. Biopolis Phase 6 will add another 35,000 sq m of business park space for BMS research and supporting activities, and 6,000 sq m for office and retail uses. This includes 2,000 sq m of fitted-out laboratory spaces with lab benches, waste drainage, and exhaust provisions. This can reduce startups’ upfront expenditure costs to access wet labs, and shorten their time-to-market. We launched the Concept and Price Tender for Biopolis Phase 6 in August 2019. 

9. Besides infrastructure, to accelerate their growth, startups need mentorship from those with experience in commercialising biotech technologies, and access to networks and funding. In mature biotech ecosystems such as Boston, privately-led incubators and accelerators bring together the scientific and investor communities to spin off new technologies in a holistic manner covering infrastructure, mentorship, networks and deal-making.

10. I am happy to be here today to officially launch NSG BioLabs. NSG BioLabs is the first private biotech incubator in Singapore that Enterprise Singapore has brought in as one of its Startup SG Accelerator partners to address the needs of the biotech startups here. Through NSG BioLabs, startups can get access to around 1,400 sq m of wet lab and office space, access to mentorship and networks through its entrepreneurs-in-residence and NSG BioLabs in Boston and Hangzhou, and access to funding through its partnership with Nest.Bio Ventures. 

11. NSG BioLabs has nurtured successful startups in its Boston and Hangzhou sites. These include HiFiBiO (pronounced high-fai-bye-oh) which raised US$67 mil in Series C funding to develop novel antibody drugs for cancer and autoimmune disease, and RootPath Genomics which raised US$7 mil in a seed round for T-cell therapy. 

12. At its Singapore site, with Enterprise Singapore’s assistance, three local biotech startups have already moved in, and the fourth is on its way. One of these startups is Engine Biosciences, a biotech company using machine learning and functional genomics to accelerate drug discovery, which raised US$10mil last year in Southeast Asia’s largest institutional seed round. I am glad to see the demand for NSG BioLabs’ co-working lab and office space in Singapore, and I look forward to seeing many more successful startups nurtured by NSG BioLabs in Singapore. 
Contributing back to the ecosystem 

13. To create a vibrant, self-sustaining biotech ecosystem for the longer term, we need those who have achieved success to also contribute back to the ecosystem to groom the next batch of successful startups. 

14. I am glad that the NSG BioLabs team comprises seasoned individuals who have founded and grown biotech startups in Singapore or overseas. Their experience will be useful for our local biotech startups to help them scale internationally. 

15. I would like to specially mention Ms Daphne Teo who is a co-founder of Engine Biosciences and was instrumental in bringing it to Singapore. She has also played a key role in setting up NSG BioLabs here today so that biotech startups facing similar challenges can also benefit. I hope to see more of such successful individuals contributing back to accelerate Singapore’s BMS journey. 

Closing remarks

16. In closing, I would like to congratulate NSG BioLabs on the official launch of its co-working lab and office space today. This is an important addition to Biopolis and complements the next phase of Biopolis development. I hope to see more biotech startups starting and scaling up in Singapore, so that together, we can become the BMS hub of Asia. 

17. Thank you. 

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