sia-Pacific’s medical technology (MedTech) sector is primed for exponential growth.
McKinsey expects the market in Asia-Pacific to hit US$137 billion (S$184 billion) by 2023 to become the second-largest MedTech market in the world.
The accelerated growth is driven by various factors. Asia Pacific accounts for more than half the world’s population and by 2025 about a quarter of the region’s population will be elderly. The increasing life expectancy, rising consumer expectations of the middle class and better accessibility to healthcare bring about an unprecedented demand for a range of medical devices and services.
The boost in the medical device space is further accentuated by rapid and disruptive technological innovations propelled by swelling private sector investment and government incentives.
Singapore has much to offer to MedTech companies which are setting their sights on Asia. The country, with its talent, infrastructure and technological advantages, has all the capabilities needed to act as a solid base for these companies to establish their presence and thrive.
MedTech Sector - Singapore’s Next Lap of Growth
It augurs well that the Singapore government is pumping S$25 billion, up from S$19 billion, into its next five-year national Research, Innovation and Enterprise plan which highlighted manufacturing, trade and connectivity as key domains. The aim of the plan is to develop the country as a “global-Asia node” for technology, innovation and enterprise, among other things.
On top of that, Singapore’s investment company, Temasek, is also investing $1 billion a year into funding the development of deep-tech innovation across a variety of domains. This includes work in fields such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences and technology associated with food.
“Through these investments, we can strengthen our position in the global technology supply chain,” Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said. “I also welcome investors who are focused on innovation to find opportunities in Singapore, and through Singapore in the region.”
Signalling how the MedTech sector will feature prominently in Singapore’s next lap of growth, the Ministry of Trade and Industry announced the formation of a new Singapore Together Alliances for Action (AfAs) on MedTech. The industry-led coalition has identified in-vitro diagnostics, which involves the development of test kits to help detect and contain the spread of diseases like Covid-19, as a key area of opportunity within the sector, strengthening Singapore’s position as an end-to-end hub for MedTech product development and commercialisation.
Raffles Medical Group executive chairman Loo Choon Yong, a member of the Emerging Stronger task force leading the MedTech coalition, said that the move builds on Singapore’s existing strengths in manufacturing, as well as research and development.
“Healthcare manufacturing commands a premium because safety is big,” he was quoted as saying. “You cannot be exporting healthcare products without very high exacting standards; people won’t buy otherwise.” The coalition hopes to create about 4,000 new jobs through greater MedTech collaborations.
Another member of the task force, Dr Fidah Alsagoff, joint head of enterprise development and life sciences at Temasek, said the MedTech capabilities Singapore has developed over the course of the pandemic can be deployed in other areas beyond infectious diseases. He noted that in-vitro diagnostics are a “high value” part of medical treatment. “Because there is scale, it can have the potential to become a lucrative engine for growth” beyond Covid-19.
World’s Leading Manufacturers Call Singapore Home
The Singapore Economic Development Board reports that in 2020, Singapore’s MedTech manufacturing output hit over S$15 billion and the country is making significant investments in advanced manufacturing technologies to ensure it remains a hub for the world’s leading MedTech manufacturers well into the future.
Singapore’s factories at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology and the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre draw partners from around the world, including MedTech giant Thermo Fisher Scientific.
The world leader in serving science, Thermo Fisher Scientific announced plans to develop two new sterile filling lines in Singapore to extend capacity to the Asia-Pacific region for the development and manufacture of therapies and vaccines. Once operational in 2022, the US$130m facility could manufacture up to 30 million sterile doses per month and employ more than 300 people.
Medical device firm Medtronic, which chose the city-state as the location for its first Asian plant to produce state-of-the-art cardiac devices, launched the Medtronic Open Innovation Platform (OIP) in Singapore.
The first-of-its-kind OIP will bring strategic collaboration in healthcare technologies among various stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem through capability development, partnerships and business organisations networking in the areas of medical technology and digital health in APAC, with Singapore as the epicenter.
Medtronic will also open its first-ever Digital Medtronic Innovation Centre (dMIC) in Singapore. When completed, the facility will offer a collaborative space for an all-round immersive experience of product and therapy innovation.
It is noteworthy that five of the world’s top 10 Electronic Manufacturing Service companies based in Singapore undertake activities across the entire value chain, from design to mass production.
Initiatives that aim at enhancing collaboration go a long way to make the city-state attractive to MedTech companies. The Centre of Regulatory Excellence (CoRE), a professional organisation that is part of the Duke-NUS Medical School, serves the needs of the biomedical industry by enhancing collaboration between academia, industry, and regulatory agencies. Its mission is to establish regional platforms and networks to grow competencies, enhance collaboration and promote thought leadership in innovative regulatory science and health policy.
There is also the Singapore Health Technologies Consortium (HealthTEC) which provides a platform to facilitate the convergence of research and translational efforts with industry to develop innovative health and wellness solutions for individuals through deep technology and multi-sensor analytics. HealthTEC is supported by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and hosted at the Institute for Health Innovation and Technology (iHealthtech), National University of Singapore (NUS).
Such intentional efforts go a long way to help make Singapore a desired location for MedTech businesses.
One Up for Start-Ups
Enabling earlier cancer detection
Biomedical company, Lucence Health, has raised US$29 million (S$38 million) in initial seed capital and Series A funding from the likes of SGInnovate, Temasek’s Heliconia and IHH Healthcare to grow.
The company specialises in non-invasive liquid biopsy tests to detect cancers and other diseases. It uses a proprietary sequencing chemistry for liquid biopsy, called AmpliMark, that enables earlier accurate cancer detection.
Lucence also developed saliva-based tests based on liquid biopsy technology for the detection of Covid-19 in infected people, to spare them invasive, painful swabs.
Screening for early signs of diabetic eye conditions
A local start-up EyRiscan has developed the artificial intelligence (AI) technology that screens for early signs of diabetic eye conditions more efficiently. Diabetes Singapore will deploy the AI system to analyse and produce results for an eye scan within minutes, instead of about an hour. The society has set a target to screen 11,000 patients in 2021 for diabetes-related eye conditions, up from 8,000 screenings conducted the previous year.
Known as Selena+, the AI technology can identify patients with three types of eye disease - diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
The AI system has more than a 90 percent accuracy rate, and it can “eliminate human inconsistencies” when analysing data.
AI aids in faster diagnosis of heart diseases
A team from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Ngee Ann Polytechnic and the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) has invented a new diagnostic tool using AI machine learning algorithm that could lead to faster diagnosis of heart disease.
The AI uses electrocardiograms (ECGs) and has an accuracy rate of 98.5 percent. The research team hopes the tool can complement current techniques of diagnosing heart diseases, such as magnetic resonance imaging. The tool could also be extended to detect other heart conditions and be used with wearable devices, such as smart watches, for the monitoring of heart conditions in patients in future.