Singapore to be an ‘end-to-end’ manufacturing hub for healthcare solutions – EDB

By Si Ying Thian

A new collaboration between the Economic Development Board (EDB) and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) furthers Singapore’s ambitions to be a global biotech hub, through a mix of local programs and global partnerships.

MoU signing between EDB and J&J on the establishment of JLABS in Singapore. Image: J&J.

A new partnership between Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) will see JLABS, J&J’s incubator arm, help early-stage biotech startups with a base in Singapore to build up talent development and commercialisation capacities.


Notably, JLABS works on a “no strings attached” model, which means that it does not take shareholdings in the companies it supports. It has a wealth of experience in larger markets such as the US and Europe.


Of the eight companies first to receive JLABS’ support, five are Singapore-based, with the remaining coming from the United Kingdom, China and Korea. 


The JLABS’ mentorship model would guide selected startups on the technical know-how to execute their plans and pitch credibly for funding.


Many local startups want to expand beyond the Singapore market, and corporate incubators such as JLABS provide global expertise and networks to help them develop products for market fit and commercialisation approaches, Goh Wan Yee, Senior Vice President and Head, Healthcare, Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB), told GovInsider. 

From bench to bedside: Singapore’s focus on end-to-end manufacturing


About 20% of Singapore’s GDP is accounted for by manufacturing, and the country aims to increase the manufacturing value-added (MVA) by 50% by 2030, said Choo Heng Tong, Executive Vice President of New Ventures and Innovation at EDBI, EDB’s investment arm.


MVA represents the value of an organisation’s actions and investments.

The discussion at SWITCH titled "Collaborating to Fuel Singapore Lifesciences’ Ecosystem" was among multistakeholder panelists, spanning regulator, corporate investor, and biotech start-ups. Image: J&J.

He was speaking at a panel discussion following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between JLABS and EDB on 31 October 2023 at the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH).


“Manufacturing is a key focus as we continue to secure key investments in new growth areas such as mRNA and Drug Conjugates, while building best-in-class capabilities within our local biomedical ecosystem and developing our local biomedical workforce,” Goh explained. 


This is one way in which life sciences startups fit into Singapore’s broader manufacturing ambitions. 


EDB wants to increase the number of life sciences startups based in Singapore that can provide end-to-end healthcare manufacturing – to innovate, manufacture and commercialise products – within one location.


“From bench to bedside, through Singapore,” stated Choo.


Choo also briefly cited the successful case study of Singapore-based precision biotherapeutics biotech, Hummingbird Bioscience.


In its early founding years, it received funding from Spring Singapore, now known as Enterprise Singapore, among other investors, as well as EDB’s guidance and investment later before setting up its headquarters at Science Park, Singapore. 


Hummingbird Bioscience has been referred to as the “most promising Singapore biotech” in recent years, according to Fierce Biotech.

Biotech’s increasing significance in life sciences


Melinda Richter, Global Head of JLABS, revealed in the panel that the biotech companies under JLABS have conducted over US$26 billion worth of deals to-date, and is hoping to accelerate further. 


Choo alluded to biotech’s “outsized role in drug discovery,” sharing that about 70% of FDA approvals go to biotech companies.


Marrying the respective strengths of Big Pharma and biotech could help accelerate the drug discovery pipeline, and that is where EDB sees the value both parties bring about to the life sciences ecosystem in Singapore. 


Large pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and J&J, are increasingly investing in small biotech firms and startups, reported Yahoo.


“We have a strong base of corporate R&D centers, and a growing base of biotech startups. The addition of JLABS to the ecosystem energises the community, in terms of supporting the growth of local startups and welcoming global startups to set up in Singapore,” Choo added.


Aside from JLABS, other healthcare innovation models that were set up in Singapore include Medtronic’s Open Innovation Platform and Novartis’ digital health innovation lab known as Biome

‘Unstoppable momentum’: J&J’s growing investments in Singapore 


J&J has had a longstanding presence in Singapore since its country office was first established in 1974, which later became the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional headquarter office. 

Melinda Richter, Global Head of JLABS, alluded to Singapore's advantage in R&D, funding, political stability and ease of doing business for setting up JLABS here. Image: J&J.

Most recently, it also collaborated with Duke-NUS medical school on a R&D center, and National University Hospital (NUH) on a 3D printing lab. EDB pointed to the new collaboration with JLABS as evidence of “a momentum that is unstoppable.”


Richter from JLABS pointed to Singapore’s richness in R&D, its positioning as an APAC funding hub, political stability and ease of doing business as key reasons for setting up JLABS in Singapore.


At SWITCH, JLABS also announced the Singapore QuickFire Challenge, inviting global startups with an interest in the Singapore innovation ecosystem to come forward with potential healthcare solutions that improve patient outcomes. 


The best potential solution will be awarded grant funding of US$100,000 for further development.