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7-Business: Singapore turns to biotech to galvanise economy

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TITLE:  Singapore turns to biotech to galvanise economy
SOURCE: Reuters/Forbes, by Jennifer Tan
DATE:   Mar 1, 2003

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Singapore turns to biotech to galvanise economy

SINGAPORE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Singapore lab technician Lily Sia extracts
human stem cells from bags of umbilical cord blood for storage in huge
freezers of liquid nitrogen, hoping one day the cells will cure major

Stem cell storage is just one part of the citystate's efforts to turn
itself into a biomedical hub as it seeks new engines for its faltering
export-driven economy, though ethical concerns over cloning and abortion
are slowing similar efforts elsewhere.

"Storing these stem cells is a form of biological insurance for our
clients -- the cells can be used later to treat the child if he develops
a blood disorder or genetic disease," said Sia, 30, who works at Stemcord
Pte Ltd, an umbilical cord blood bank.

Last November U.S. drug giant Schering-Plough Corp opened a new
biotechnology plant in Singapore to produce three different medicines --
including its recently approved cholesterol fighting drug Zetia.

In recent years pharmaceutical companies such as Aventis, GlaxoSmithKline
Plc, Merck & Co Inc, Pfizer Inc and Wyeth have also invested in
manufacturing plants for mainly chemically derived drugs.

For its part Singapore has pledged at least S$3 billion ($1.73 billion)
to build infrastructure, train scientists and fund research and start-ups.

The city state, which aims to have 15 world-class biotechnology firms by
2010, is building a cutting-edge biotech park, Biopolis, for research and
development work, whose first phase is due for completion by June.


Biomedical science, which includes pharmaceuticals, medical devices,
healthcare services and biotechnology, accounted for about seven percent
of total manufacturing output in 2002, the Economic Development Board
(EDB) said on Thursday.

Biomedical manufacturing output jumped nearly 50 percent to S$9.73
billion ($5.62 billion) in 2002 from a year earlier. Pharmaceuticals,
which contributes more than 80 percent of biomedical output, surged
nearly 60 percent to S$7.97 billion last year, while medical technology
grew 14 percent to S$1.77 billion.

"We are on track to achieve our targeted manufacturing output of S$12
billion by 2005," Philip Yeo, EDB co-chairman, told reporters at a briefing.

"I am confident that this cluster will continue to sustain its
performance for 2003... and we see at least 10 percent of total output
coming from biomedical, amounting to S$20 billion, in 10 years' time."

Yeo said the EDB and the Agency for Science, Technology & Research would
work closely with the rest of government to ensure comprehensive
infrastructural support for the biomedical sector.

Both agencies plan to also nurture the growing pool of young talent among
local students to support the industry, he added.

Already some of Singapore's brightest students have been awarded
scholarships to pursue biomedical studies, with fellowships given to
postgraduate students to support research training.

Yet the benefits are more than merely monetary.

"This is very meaningful work for me, and brings hope to families of
loved ones who suffer from diseases like leukemia or who need organ
transplants," lab technician Sia says. ($1=1.730 Singapore Dollar)