Singapore's biotech sector to see steady growth over the next decade

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur12/21/2022 12:15 PM GMT+08  • 3 min read
Singapore's biotech sector to see steady growth over the next decade
Yet, a shortage of key talent across the various functions and experience levels continues to pose challenges for biotech firms. Photo: Unsplash
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The number of biotech companies in Singapore is expected to grow by more than 60% over the next 10 years, according to the Bridging the Talent Gaps in Singapore’s Biotech Sector report released by deep tech ecosystem builder and investor SGInnovate.

Due to the government’s support and private sector investments in research and development, the number of companies in the pre-clinical phase has increased seven-fold from five in 2012 to 35 in 2022. This growth is expected to stabilise over the next decade as the ecosystem matures, with some companies entering the clinical phase, while new start-ups pioneering frontier research are incorporated.

Chart: SGInnovate

The study also recognises start-ups as a key engine of innovation within the sector, as global pharmaceutical companies build therapeutics pipelines with new models that include acquiring, co-developing with, or licensing from smaller biotech companies.

Despite the positive outlook, a shortage of key talent across the various functions and experience levels continues to pose challenges for biotech companies.

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The overall talent shortage is expected to grow by about 30% by 2032. Functions that struggle to find talent include research & development, production, regulatory affairs and business management.

For instance, the talent gap in the clinical phase is expected to see an almost three-fold increase, from a shortage of 44 personnel in 2022 to 123 in 2032. At this phase, the gap is most critical at the C-suite level, which refers to professionals who can support business management activities such as fundraising and business direction, as well as manager-level roles, who drive vendor and third-party engagement.

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Chart: SGInnovate

Some initiatives that can help pre-clinical biotech companies address the talent gap include accelerating career progression for experienced juniors reaching managerial level through rotations and secondments, as well as providing incentives for talent to relocate from overseas.

The study also encourages pre-clinical clinical research organisations (CROs) to set up in Singapore to provide professionals with opportunities to manage the outsourcing of experiments in pre-clinical settings.

For companies in the clinical phase, training must focus on all levels to support the expected growth. Where numbers allow, biotech companies should be incentivised to conduct Phase II and III clinical trials locally to allow professionals to gain experience with industry-level operations. Singapore can also position itself as a facilitating hub for trials in the Asia Pacific region, especially for local and overseas biotech companies that target this market.

“While the talent gap remains a perennial issue for biotech companies globally, the demand for expertise in these areas presents an opportunity for researchers and academia to gain industry exposure,” says Juliana Lim, executive director – Talent at SGInnovate.

She continues: “Over time, with the right training resources and support at each stage of development, we can expect these researchers to accumulate the experience needed to step up and lead start-ups that are pioneering cutting-edge research. SGInnovate will continue to work with public and private sector partners to ensure that appropriate support is available for talent as they pursue various development paths in the industry and drive growth of the ecosystem."

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