espite lingering economic uncertainties, the medical technology (MedTech) industry is continuing to forge ahead. An expanding but also ageing population, increasing affluence and the prevalence of chronic diseases are driving business growth.
Much of the increase will be in Asia, home to some 60 percent of the world’s population. Global consulting firm McKinsey & Company expects that within the next five years, Asia, which currently accounts for 23 percent of the global MedTech market, will eclipse Europe as the second largest regional market after the United States. “During that period, Asia will also be the major growth engine among global MedTech markets, contributing 35 percent of total incremental growth,” McKinsey added.
Host to more than 60 multinational MedTech companies manufacturing diverse products, from contact lenses and pacemakers to life science tools and diagnostics, Singapore is riding the MedTech wave. Since the industry was first promoted in 2000, manufacturing output has headed up, growing from S$1.5 billion in 2000 and breaching the S$10 billion mark in 2014. According to preliminary figures, the industry generated S$13.3 billion in 2018, up 7.3 percent over the previous year, accounting for 38 percent of the manufacturing output of the biomedical cluster.
The life science tools instruments industry is a growing subsector and Singapore has established strong leadership positions in key products such as next-generation sequencing platforms and mass spectrometers. Over 60 percent of the world’s microarrays and one third of the world’s thermal cyclers and mass spectrometers are made here.
The industry is continuing to expand. In January 2019, Becton Dickinson (BD) marked its 30th anniversary of manufacturing in Singapore with the opening of an advanced moulding centre, its first in Asia. Built within BD’s primary facility in Tuas, it is one of the largest and most sophisticated plastic moulding plants in the world with an annual production of 75 billion units of plastic components. Since its launch, BD has centralised and insourced most of its plastic moulding production in Asia.
In May, PerkinElmer opened its largest instrument manufacturing facility in Singapore. Housed at the JTC MedTech Hub, it has two demonstration laboratories where customers can have a hands-on experience with PerkinElmer’s technologies.
Singapore – hotbed for start-ups
Even as it rolls out the red carpet for multinationals, Singapore is also nurturing homegrown enterprises through key initiatives such as SEEDS Capital and Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub.
Since 2014, SEEDS Capital, the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore which identifies and catalyses the growth of high-potential Singapore based start-ups, has co-invested over S$90 million in more than 20 MedTech start-ups.
The DxD Hub is a national initiative led by Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) which brings together clinicians, researchers, entrepreneurs and industry professionals onto a common platform to speed up the commercialisation of diagnostic technologies.
Today, Singapore is a veritable hotbed for MedTech as companies are leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), information technology (IT), big data and precision engineering to develop better devices and diagnostics to improve the wellbeing of patients. Since the two initiatives were launched, the number of Singapore based MedTech companies has spiked, from about 100 in 2014 to more than 250 in 2018, with strong focus on in-vitro diagnostics, cardiology and ophthalmology. Start-ups account for over half the total.
Among the notable Singapore-based MedTech companies are Lucene Diagnostics, AWAK Technologies, Tricog and Ayzer Sense.
Lucence Diagnostics, a spin-off from A*STAR, is aiming to reduce avoidable cancer deaths through early detection using liquid biopsy. Unlike conventional tissue biopsy which requires tissue removal from the body, Lucence’s liquid biopsy tests are non-invasive, fast and affordable.
At the opening of its new 929-sq. metre laboratory in Singapore in January 2019, the company launched its latest flagship blood test, LiquidHALLMARK®
. This new test can detect 14 types of cancers, 50 genetic mutations and 2 viruses with a single blood test using its proprietary amplicon-based sequencing technology AmpliMARK™.
It is the world’s first blood test that simultaneously detects both cancer-causing genetic mutations and viruses with 99.9 percent accuracy. The company is focusing its efforts on the most common cancers in Asia, such as cancers of the breast, colon, liver, lung and nose.
AWAK Technologies has developed the AWAK PD, a wearable, compact device that enables dialysis to be performed on-the-go, thus relieving the patient of the need to endure lengthy treatments that require connection to traditional dialysis machines.
The AWAK PD incorporates AWAK’s patented sorbent technology which regenerates and reconstitutes used dialysis fluid into fresh fluid while removing the uremic toxins from the spent dialysate. The device requires between 1.5 and 2 litres of dialysate to perform a patient’s entire daily therapy, compared with 8 to 12 litres required by traditional PD methods.
Tricog is using AI to provide patients with quick diagnosis for their heart condition. An electrocardiography (ECG) machine with a Tricog add-on encrypts a patient’s results and sends them to the cloud, where a machine-learning algorithm interprets the data and forms a diagnosis, all in six minutes.
And Ayzer Sense has developed the Smart Automated Body-Pressure Redistributor (SABPR), a low cost, specialised mattress overlay to prevent the development of bedsores common amongst patients who are confined to bed for extended periods. SABPR is designed to sense body-pressure, map high-pressure regions, and intelligently redistribute the underlying body support to reduce pressure in high-pressure regions, thus ensuring blood circulation remains adequate across all parts of the body to prevent the formation of pressure ulcers.
Increasingly, innovation in MedTech will require greater collaboration among key stakeholders - companies, universities as well as governments. This feeds into Singapore’s strengths.
Speaking at the launch of Lucence Diagnostics’ new headquarters and laboratory, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Dr Koh Poh Koon said, “One of the key strengths of Singapore’s R&D ecosystem lie in the strong partnerships between our companies and the public sector. Global and local start-ups, multinational corporations and local enterprises have been working closely with key public sector organisations, such as A*STAR, Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), Ministry of Health (MoH), hospitals and the regulators to strengthen the growth and competitiveness of the MedTech industry.”
The collaboration between GE Healthcare and A*STAR is a fine example. As part of the collaboration, the two partners are developing digital solutions, including a diagnostic imaging system for Parkinson’s Disease and advanced capabilities for surgery motion tracking. GE Healthcare brings to the table its expertise in medical and IT while A*Star provides proficiency in data analytics and high-performance computing.
Working together, GE Healthcare and A*Star have also used high-performance computing to improve the Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan procedure, which translates into faster scans and shorter waiting times for patients, shaving about 15 minutes off the workflow, which would typically take almost 40 minutes to complete.
In July 2019, a new national Health Technologies Consortium (HealthTEC) was set up to enhance collaboration within the eco-system and foster innovation. Housed at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech), the consortium brings together industry partners with academics at research institutes and IHLs to accelerate the process of turning medical discoveries into novel health technology.
HealthTEC encourages industry-academia interactions through regular networking sessions, workshops, roundtable discussions and scientific symposia and acts as a national resource in R&D and commercialisation by providing seed grants and facilitating licensing of locally developed technologies.
Headed by the institute’s director Professor Lim Chwee Teck, HealthTEC is developing health and wellness solutions in two areas:
• Health sensing technologies, which refer to innovations to track and collect health-related data, and
• Health analytics and AI, which uses predictive modelling and machine learning technologies to make sense of collected data, with the aim of providing insights and suggesting actions that individuals can take to improve their own health and wellness.
The consortium will partner companies of all sizes based in Singapore, from start-ups to multinational companies. Companies that have joined the consortium as founding industry members include Roceso Technologies, Tip Biosystems, ST Engineering and Ferrero Asia Pacific.
At its 6,706-sq. metre technology centre in Tuas, Advanced MedTech Holdings, the largest medical device manufacturer in South-east Asia, is fostering collaboration within the group.
Speaking at the opening of Advanced MedTech’s new technology centre in September 2018, Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, said, “As an incubator for new disruptive technologies, (the centre) will house design, digital innovation and healthcare, as well as facilities and spaces for co-creation and prototyping. (The centre’s) work will help bring together different stakeholders, including start-ups and entrepreneurs, to develop and test-bed integrated, next-generation healthcare solutions. More importantly, entrepreneurs and corporations can take advantage of this environment to learn from the experiences of the group’s management team, as they prepare to commercialise their technologies globally.”
Over the past four years, Advanced MedTech, formerly known as Accuron MedTech Group, has invested in over 10 companies, most of which are related to its core urology business.
AWAK Technologies is the first portfolio company to move its headquarters to the new centre. As a development stage company, it has access to the centre’s clean room manufacturing and assembly facility to support its research, development, manufacturing and commercial activities.
The opening of the technology centre is aligned with Advanced MedTech’s strategy to make future investments in deep-technology start-ups. Earlier in the year, Advanced MedTech also announced a co-investment of S$20 million together with SEEDS Capital to identify and catalyse the growth of high-potential Singapore-based start-ups.
Driven by megatrends, the MedTech industry is continuing to expand across Asia. With its strong research base, clustering of healthcare innovation activities and deep manufacturing capabilities, Singapore is ideally placed to harness the region’s growth opportunities.