Singapore’s Journey to Becoming a Biotech Powerhouse

Singapore’s Biotech Vision: From 2000 Onwards

In 2000, Singapore embarked on an ambitious mission to establish itself as a leading biotech hub. The government identified biomedical research as the “fourth pillar” of its economy through the National Biomedical Science Strategy. This vision led to the creation of Biopolis in 2003, a dedicated biomedical R&D center.

Over the subsequent two decades, billions were invested in the life sciences sector. This saw the emergence of new research institutes, government agencies, and the establishment of both large and small biopharma companies. Despite these efforts, biotech isn’t the first association many make with Singapore.

Christopher Tan, a seasoned biotech investor and partner at Outram Bio, emphasized the need for a significant success story. While there have been small victories, the biotech sector in Singapore is still awaiting its “Moderna moment.”

Singapore’s Strategic Investments in Biotech

In a bid to position itself as a leading biotech hub, the Singapore government made substantial financial commitments starting from 2000. An initial investment of $2 billion was allocated for the first five years. From 2006 to 2015, the biomedical science sector received around 7.3 billion Singapore dollars ($5.5 billion) as per the MTI. An additional 4 billion Singapore dollars ($3 billion) was designated in 2016 under a five-year R&D expenditure plan. The latest Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 scheme, spanning from 2021 to 2025, has earmarked a record 25 billion Singapore dollars ($19 billion), emphasizing the human health sector as one of its primary pillars.

Biopolis Singapore; Source: The Singapore Biopolis
Biopolis Singapore; Source: The Singapore Biopolis

Recognizing the importance of research-driven medical education, the Singapore government initiated a partnership between Duke University and the National University of Singapore in 2005. This collaboration led to the establishment of the Duke-NUS Medical School, which received significant investments in its formative years.

To further bolster its research prowess, Singapore introduced the Create project, attracting renowned global universities and research institutions. Esteemed institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and ETH Zurich have since established their presence in Singapore.

Additionally, Temasek, a major investment firm owned by the Singapore government, has shown keen interest in biotech. While the firm has supported local entities like Tessa, its investment focus is not restricted to domestic ventures.

Challenges in Singapore’s Biotech Scene

Hummingbird Bioscience emerged as a notable contender in Singapore’s biotech landscape, securing $125 million in 2021. However, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges. Companies like Aslan Pharmaceuticals and Tessa Therapeutics showed immense promise but faced setbacks. Guy Heathers, a serial entrepreneur in Singapore, highlighted the importance of consistent success to attract and retain investor interest.

Singapore’s biotech achievements include CTI Biopharma’s FDA approval for JAK inhibitor Vonjo, originally developed by SBIO, a now-defunct Singapore biotech company. Additionally, global pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim entered into a licensing agreement with Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (ASTAR) to develop tumor-specific agents.

However, the challenge remains in effectively showcasing Singapore’s contributions to the global biotech scene. As Damian O’Connell, CEO of A*STAR’s Experimental Drug Development Centre (EDDC), points out, isolated successes aren’t enough. Singapore needs consistent, positive news to truly establish its place in the global drug ecosystem.

Challenges and Growth in Singapore’s Biotech Ecosystem

While Singapore has gained significant experience in early-stage studies, the maturation of its biotech hub requires more advanced experience and business networks. Compared to established biotech centers like Boston, Singapore lacks the “cluster effect” that facilitates easy collaborations.

The initial years saw challenges in understanding the biotech business model, with an economy traditionally built on trading. However, over time, there’s been a shift in mindset. Scientists are now more focused on translating their research into tangible products and biotech ventures. As the economy matured and the real estate market stabilized, investors began to see the value in biotech.

However, one Singapore-based biotech company that appears to be bucking the overall trend is CytoMed Therapeutics (NASDAQ: GDTC). 

CytoMed Therapeutics: Pioneering the Future of Cellular Therapy for Cancers

CytoMed Therapeutics, listed on NASDAQ under the stock symbol GDTC, is making waves in the realm of cellular therapy for cancer treatments. Utilizing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the company has innovated a unique cell hybrid, combining the body’s two primary innate immune cells: the natural killer (NK) cell and the gamma delta T cell. This synthesis has birthed a new class of synthetic cells termed the iPSC-derived gamma delta NKT cells, which show promising potential in treating a diverse range of cancers.

The Innovation of iPSC-derived Gamma Delta NKT Cell Technology

iPSCs are rapidly becoming a standardized and invaluable resource for producing cell therapy products. CytoMed Therapeutics has showcased its proficiency in harnessing pluripotent stem cells to generate various therapeutic cells, such as cardiomyocytes, neurons, and dendritic cells. The company’s recent advancements include successfully reprogramming peripheral blood cells, specifically gamma delta T cells, into iPSCs using a nonviral episomal method. These derived iPSCs are then transformed into NK cells and the proprietary gamma delta NKT cells, designed for cancer treatment.

The iPSC-derived gamma delta NKT cell technology stands out in the immunotherapy domain. Its innovation is rooted in a distinctive manufacturing design that capitalizes on iPSC generation and differentiation technologies. This approach produces a product equipped with unparalleled cancer recognition capabilities.

Gamma delta T cells and NK cells, both innate immune cells, possess a diverse range of receptors that can detect cancers, including solid tumors. This cancer recognition system offers several unique features, such as proven safety, pattern recognition, targeting of essential and ubiquitous antigens, and more. By integrating the cancer recognition systems of both gamma delta T cells and NK cells into gamma delta NKT cells, the product’s potency is enhanced, and its indication spectrum is broadened. Preliminary in vitro studies have already demonstrated the gamma delta NKT cells’ capability to identify and eliminate a wide array of cancers.

The Potential Impact of iPSC-derived Gamma Delta NKT Cell Technology

Most current cell therapy product manufacturing technologies adhere to a “one product, one patient, one indication” methodology, resulting in highly personalized and “narrow-spectrum” products. In contrast, the iPSC-derived gamma delta NKT cell technology offers a potential shift towards a “one product, many patients, many indications” approach. This could lead to the creation of a “broad-spectrum” product capable of treating a vast array of cancers in numerous patients. Such a groundbreaking product is not only scientifically exhilarating but also holds significant economic potential.

Additionally, the gamma delta NKT cell technology’s foundation in iPSCs allows for modifications at the iPSC level, enhancing the gamma delta NKT cells’ functionality when required. This adaptable technology, combined with the potency and versatility of gamma delta NKT cells, is highly appealing to industries seeking innovative technology platforms for targeted cell therapy products for cancers. The technology’s patent recognition in Japan further propels its industrial development prospects.


In the past two decades, Singapore has embarked on a transformative journey to position itself as a global biotech powerhouse. Through strategic investments, partnerships, and a clear vision, the nation has made significant strides in the biomedical research sector. The establishment of Biopolis, collaborations with renowned institutions like Duke University, and the presence of global universities such as MIT and UC Berkeley underscore Singapore’s commitment to this vision. While there have been challenges, including the need for a defining success story and understanding the biotech business model, there have also been notable achievements, such as CTI Biopharma’s FDA approval and Boehringer Ingelheim’s collaboration with A*STAR. 

CytoMed Therapeutics stands out as a beacon of innovation in this landscape, with its pioneering work in cellular therapy for cancers. Their groundbreaking iPSC-derived gamma delta NKT cell technology exemplifies the potential of biotech in revolutionizing cancer treatment. As Singapore continues its biotech journey, it is evident that with consistent efforts, strategic investments, and a focus on innovation, the nation is well on its way to solidifying its position in the global biotech arena, offering hope and solutions to patients worldwide.


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