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DPM Heng Swee Keat at Opening of Hummingbird Bioscience at Galen Building

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 23 September 2022

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Opening of Hummingbird Bioscience at the Galen Building on 23 September 2022.

 

Dr Piers Ingram, 
CEO, Hummingbird Bioscience, 

Dr Jerome Boyd-Kirkup, 
CSO, Hummingbird Bioscience, 

Dr Thomas Lynch,
Board Member, Hummingbird Bioscience,

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Let me start by congratulating Hummingbird Bioscience on the opening of your new facility. 

The milestones you have achieved in these short seven years – which Piers highlighted earlier – have been remarkable. 

This 40,000 square feet facility at Science Park comprises more than 10 state-of-the-art laboratories for biotherapeutics research, ranging in functions from pharmacology and mass spectrometry to genomics and microbiology. 

Integrated with your office spaces, the close physical proximity between labs and office allows for greater collaboration across multiple disciplines. 

Hummingbird

Hummingbird has come a long way since you started in 2015. 

The team has now grown into 150 strong, responsible for the full range of drug discovery and development activities. 

You are now a leading start-up in the field of precision biotherapeutics for cancer and autoimmune diseases. 

These diseases are traditionally difficult to treat, but with data science and next-generation therapies, you are opening new possibilities for patients. 

If you look at founders Piers and Jerome, they are as global as one can be. 

They studied, lived, and worked in different continents, and could have based this venture in any part of the world. 

But I am glad they chose Singapore as their base, and they are now an integral part of our vibrant and growing biotech ecosystem. 

Because of start-ups like Hummingbird, Singapore is fast becoming an oasis for biotech. 

Singapore: An Oasis for Biotech

Singapore was never a natural oasis for biomedical sciences and biotech innovation. 

We started with nothing. But almost forty years ago, Singapore started the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology. This marked the beginning of our biomedical sciences journey. 

Today, biomedical sciences is a key pillar of our manufacturing economy, making up almost 3.3% of our GDP and employing more than 25,000 workers last year. 

Beyond the economics, our steady investments in biomedical sciences over the years have enabled us to contribute to the health of people in Singapore and around the world. 

For instance, in the fight against COVID-19, teams in Singapore developed one of the first PCR test kits and the first surrogate viral neutralizing antibody test in the world. 

The application of biomedical sciences is diverse – going beyond pandemics to also address other diseases, and global challenges such as food security. 

Within biomedical sciences, the application of biotech in therapeutics has been growing rapidly in Singapore. Today, there are more than 40 therapeutic biotech companies and Singapore-based biotechs collectively raised more than S$860 million last year. 

The growth of Singapore as an oasis for biotech owes much to three critical areas that we have been working on. 

First, our strong science base, second, bridging the valley of death, and third, anchoring smart financing.

Let me cover each in turn.

Strong Science Base

First, our strong science base.

As I mentioned earlier, the Singapore Government has remained steadfast in our commitment to invest in research and innovation. This has allowed us to build a strong scientific base comprising some of the best scientists in Singapore and around the world, and developing a pipeline of top talent. We will continue to invest in attracting and developing talent, as this is crucial for creating and sustaining a vibrant biotech eco-system.

Besides the development of talent, we will continue to invest in core areas of research to meet our health and other national priorities. For the years 2021 to 2025, I announced that our government will be investing S$25 billion in research, innovation, and enterprise, with biomedical sciences as a major focus.

This government funding goes beyond investment in basic research. We are also providing therapeutics development support under schemes such as the Singapore Therapeutics Development Review, or STDR, and Central Gap.

In particular, the STDR scheme not only boosts the pipeline of future biotechs, it also nurtures enterprising scientific and biotech talent through bootcamps, mentorship, and networking with early-stage biotech venture capitalists.

Bridging the Valley of Death

Second, bridging the valley of death.

Drug development is a complex and challenging endeavour, even in the best of circumstances. The “valley of death” has claimed many promising start-ups.

In 2019, I opened A*STAR’s Experimental Drug Development Centre, or EDDC, which helps to bridge the gap between innovative biomedical research and novel medical treatments. EDDC has since garnered 5 licensing deals and a spin-off company.

Additionally, Enterprise Singapore supported the setup of NSG BioLabs, a 22,000 square feet co-working laboratory which houses 18 promising startups today. Together with other co-working laboratory spaces, this creates a community for biotech founders to connect, learn, and collaborate.

We are also seeing more corporates collaborating with biotechs. In 2021, Hummingbird Bioscience entered into a clinical trial agreement with Merck for a combinatorial drug treatment. And there are many more examples.

Anchoring smart financing

Third, anchoring smart financing.

A healthy biotech eco-system will not be complete without a good mix of venture capitalists across the different stages of growth to support the spin-off and scaling of our biotechs.

Hummingbird for example had benefitted from a grant from Enterprise Singapore, as well as early-stage investments from SEEDS Capital and Heritas Capital.

As you grew, you continued to secure private investments to fuel your momentum. Last year, Hummingbird secured US$125 million in Series C funding, the largest biotech deal in Singapore that year despite the challenging conditions brought about by the pandemic.

This year, despite dampened global economic outlook amidst geopolitical tensions and other factors, I am heartened that Singapore biotech companies have still been able to fundraise successfully.

An Open Oasis

Singapore has strived to be an oasis in the past four decades, not just for biotech, but also in other areas of research and innovation. But for all its fountains and greens, an oasis will not thrive if it is closed to the world. And the same applies to Singapore.

Hummingbird could have set up base in another part of the world. You came to Singapore not only because we offered you the right conditions for growth, but also because we welcomed you.

In turn, you have grown your presence in Singapore, creating many good jobs for our workers. Piers mentioned earlier that your headcount doubled in less than a year to 150. With this new facility, Hummingbird will continue to hire as you scale, with new openings from research scientists to managers for clinical pharmacology.

You have added to the vibrancy of our biotech scene, creating a virtuous circle for our little oasis as we draw more start-ups to set up roots here.

Hummingbird Bioscience is an excellent example of how global talent adds vibrancy to Singapore. Singapore will continue to welcome the best minds from around the world to work together, to innovate and address the pressing challenges facing humanity.  And as your venture expands, I am confident that you will continue to create value in Singapore and globally.

Conclusion

In conclusion, let me once again congratulate Hummingbird Biosciences on your rapid growth and on this new milestone as we open your new facility.

Biotech, including drug development, has the potential to improve countless lives in the region and around the world.

Singapore hopes to contribute on this front by continuing to strengthen our scientific base, bridging the valley of death, and anchoring smart financing. As importantly, to thrive, we must remain open as an oasis for biotech.

I look forward to seeing more breakthroughs from you, and for our little oasis to attract more hummingbirds to nest and roost. Thank you!

 

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