Singapore is turning itself into a biomedical powerhouse. Central to its strategic plans is the state-of-the-art Biopolis complex, where the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is based. Recognising the importance of safety, A*STAR has turned to DNV to provide biorisk management services in this new and exciting sector.
With its manufacturing base under threat from countries including China and Malaysia, Singapore is turning to new industries for growth. One key area is biomedical research. Singapore has spent at least USD 1.25 billion in this sector since 2000 and a further USD 1.44 billion will be pumped into research over the next five years.
Singapore's efforts to promote biomedical science are reflected in Biopolis, a government-built research complex. Opened in October 2003, the complex now comprises of nine modern buildings housing private sector laboratories, scientific shared services as well as five research centres, including the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and the Genome Institute of Singapore, and other A*STAR Research Institutes and Affiliates.
The concept is to bring the right blend of skills and facilities to a common site where there can be close interaction of scientists in an environment that stimulates creativity and generates commercial opportunities for Singapore in this sector.
"There is an urgent need to transform Singapore into an R&D-driven, innovative, knowledge-based enterprise economy, where we compete on knowledge and talent in addition to efficiency and cost-effectiveness," says Boon Swan Foo, the managing director of A*STAR.
Tasked with fostering world-class scientific research and human capital, Mr Boon is quick to focus on the importance of the "safety culture" in the workplace at Biopolis. Preventing all accidents is A*STAR’s goal.
Says Mr Boon: "The ethical obligation to protect human life and health, the external environment and material assets is taken very seriously by A*STAR. Safety efforts must be embraced by both management and employees at work."
Recognising that this is a very new and different area compared to many of Singapore’s more traditional industries, Mr Boon was interested to see that DNV were active and also diversifying in the biorisk area. As part of a range of progressive safety initiatives, A*STAR called in DNV for support in managing biosafety and biosecurity (collectively known as biorisk). The work includes conducting safety management system assessments, reviewing containment laboratory facilities, and providing specialist Biorisk training.
"A major emphasis of the work is on people and their safety attitudes. Training is one key element for us, and our safety culture has to be driven by top management," says Mr Boon and continues, "We believe in taking a proactive approach to managing the risks, especially since we are dealing with lives here."
Commenting on DNV's role, Dr Paul Huntly, global leader for Biorisk, says: "Put simply, what we do for A*STAR and other leading facilities and organisations is to help them better understand and manage risks associated with a diverse range of activities involving biological organisms. We build on DNV’s experience of managing risk in a wide variety of industries and apply the same principles in a new and rather different environment. However, the work we do in this field is still very much in line with DNV's objective of safeguarding life, property and the environment.”
The biomedical sector typically demands long investment periods, spanning approximately 10 to 15 years. However, Singapore's collaborative approach to science is already bearing fruit. In 2003, the Genome Institute designed a test kit to detect the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus.
Another recent example was the development of a diagnostic kit for avian flu (H5N1). The kit, which uses nucleic acid primers also designed at A*STAR'S Genome Institute, allows human cases of avian flu to be rapidly and accurately diagnosed and is currently being used in Indonesia.
As Singapore’s reputation for world-class biomedical research and clinical excellence grows, the stage is set for a thriving biomedical research sector.