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There are more than 4,000 specialized biotechnology companies worldwide. Themost wellknown companies are located in the USA and Europe, but there are significantcompanies
emerging in Canada, Australia,NewZealand and throughout Asia particularly inJapan.
Most of these companies are small with limited finances which made an impact on the
output of the industry in terms of new drugs.From the early 1980s to the late 1990s the
biotechnology industry was steadily increasing. However, year 2000 showed a decline in
new drug output. In fact, according to the CMR International Reportin 2002, only 28 new
molecular entities were launched globally, the lowest in over twenty years. The decline in new
drug output was perplexing during that period given that many companies in the industry have
been increasing their research and development expenditure on a regular basis over the
decade. Some industry observers believe that there was an innovation deficit brought about
by the many companies lack of new ideas and methodologies. Critics within thegeneral public
believe that the industry is producing too many new drugs that aresimilar to each other which
offer littleclinical advantage over those already onthe global market.To prevent further slippage,
the industry turned to biotechnology to provide a continuing innovation in R&D which hopes to
lead to a new generation of medical treatments.
During this period the global biomedical sciences industry is confronted with the need to
improveR&D productivity and bridge healthcare needs in fast-growing regions suchas Asia.
Global companies thenexplored Asias complexities and diversity to tap into the regions
markets.Singapore was seen as the ideal location to develop solutions that may deliver
significantimpact on theglobal healthcare because of its strong R&Dcapabilities, central location
and networks withregional markets.As a trusted location with a provenmanufacturing track
record for speed andquality, Singapore enables companies tomanufacture high quality drugs
and medicaldevices across various modalities.Currently, global companies and Asianenterprises
alike use Singapore as a base to driveexpansion in Asian and international markets.
This paper hopes to study the experiences, strategies and methods of one of the most
successful companiesin the Asian Region in thefield of biotechnology industry.
Overview of the Company and its Businesses
The Company
Advanced, Innovative, Trusted (AIT) Biotech Company started as a molecular service
company in 2008 offering sequencing technologies and DNA probe manufacturing. The
company was formed by two entrepreneurs:
Alex Thian an IP attorney with a specialization in international protection of
intellectual property rights, corporate structuring of technology investments and
commercialization and exploitation of inventions. He was also the external legal
advisor of National Science and Technology Board and Singapore productivity
and standards board from 1990 to 2000. In addition Mr. Thian is also the legal
advisor to the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering and the Science
and Technology Group of companies. He has an extensive experience in
incubating startups due to his experiences in forming and 20 other
technology startups between 2000 and 2002.
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Sue Yap is a biologist by training and an MBA graduate. Her experience in

Research Biolabs from DNA sequencing up to research and development of
diagnostic products is a key to the formation of AIT.
The initial business offered by the firm is on molecular service. Presently this is one on
the strong areas of the company not only in Singapore but also in the whole Asian
Region. The molecular service that the company offers are:
Oligonucleotide synthesis
DNA Sequencing
Gene synthesis
Next Generation Sequencing
Custom Genomic Services (e.g cloning, computational analysis)

AIT ventured on the development of innovative Molecular Diagnostics (MDx) assays in

close collaboration with Singapores leading research institutions and hospital. The
company offers a wide range of diagnostic kits that are high specificity and sensitivity:
Infectious disease testing (respiratory, blood-borne, sexually transmitted, organ
transplant, tropical diseases).
Cancer detection/ Oncology (Lung Cancer and Colon Cancer)
Applied Testing (Veterinary and Forensics)
The firm is currently expanding to do R&D work on the interaction of human genes and its
effect on the efficacy of drugs (Pharmacogenomics). This type of R&D is now considered an
advanced technology which is a huge leap for the company.

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Figure 1. The main services and products offered by AIT biotech (A) Sequencing of
DNA using the next generation sequencing platform (B) Developed diagnostic kits for
infectious diseases (C) Detection kits for detecting contaminants in the food industry.
Aside from providing molecular services and diagnostics the company also went into
being a supplier of laboratory consumables and equipment. Eppendorf AG which is a
known brand in the field of bioscience made AIT its official distributor in Singapore (AIT
Biotech, 2011). Other molecular biology products being distributed by AIT are enzymes
from New England Biolabs and Purification kits.
The fourth and the newest business of AIT is in the field of business ventures. The
company together with the Singaporean Government encourages commercialization of
technologies wherein AIT will give the necessary consultancy. In line with business
venturing, AIT has also become a technology incubator which currently houses three
Phoenix Molecular Pte. Ltd is a firm that develops and integrates three disruptive
technologies into a single system which by definition will change the market in
molecular testing by creating a simple, cost effective, fully integrated system that can
be utilized in military, industrial public health and human/veterinary diagnostics market.

Healthseq Asia Pte. Ltd is a company that is in the cloud computing field mainly on the
analysis of genomes. The technology that it is currently developing is said to be a
platform for the delivery of genome driven personalized medicines, analysis of clinical
trials and management of pharmaceutical clinical data.
Al Biomedical Pte Ltd on the other hand focuses on developing and providing Point of
Care and Direct to Consumer healthcare and diagnostics products.
Aside from providing molecular biology solutions and consultancy AIT biotech is
involved in developing the skill set of Singaporean researchers by offering training on
molecular biology.
Overview of the Country and Industry Context
Singapore is a former British colony which gained its independence as the Republic of
Singapore in August 9, 1965 under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. The first years of the
country was characterized by instability due to several riots. Lee Kuan Yew was able to
overturn this instability by rapid economicgrowth, support for business entrepreneurship
and limited internal democracy making it a first world country.
The land area of Singapore presently is 719.1 km2 from an area of 581.5 km2 in 1960
(Statistics Singapore, 2014) though there are several reclamation projects still in the

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works the area of Singapore is still small. The country population is currently above 5
million from a previous population of 4 million in 2000.
In terms of education Singapore has focused on equipping its citizens with strong
mathematics and science background. Trends in International Mathematics and Science
study conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational
Achievement ranks Singapore in the top three every year since 1995 and Singapore
students also ranked in the world in terms of world in terms of mathematics, science,
and reading in the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment, conducted by
the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Tracing the strategy of Singapore
In the start of Singapore during the 1960s the country was labor intensive due to its
poorly educated workforce, labor conflicts, high unemployment and a rapidly growing
population (Poh, 2010)
The type of labor being employed was effective up to the mid-1970s when Singapore was
faced by competition coming from neighbor countries on low-tech industries and hightech manufacturing from developed countries. In order to be competitive Singapore
decided to slowly abandon its strategy into skill-intensive high-value added, technology
intensive industries such as electronics manufacturing and petrochemicals. One
approach to reach this target is to expand engineering education while providing funding
in order for older workers to retool themselves.
In 1985, Singapore faced its first major recession and since then the government
strategized into looking for new areas of economic growth. Singapore strategy is to
move beyond manufacturing into areas such as R&D and supply chain management. The
government also made efforts to encourage multinational companies to establish operational
headquarters in Singapore in order to support regional operations.
The problem of Singapore in the 1990s is to remain competitive against its competitors,
however the country has a small population with limited land area and limited resources.
Because of this the government concluded that part of their strategic move is to promote
strong intellectual capital that in turn would develop into knowledge intensive firms and
generate high value added jobs for Singaporeans.
The Biotechnology landscape of Singapore
In the late 1990s Singapore identified the field of biomedical science as an area into
which they could specialize on together with other fields such as chemistry, electronics
and engineering. This is the time when the whole genome sequencing project headed by
the United States is being conducted; Singapore cited this area as an area into wherein
there is tremendous growth potential. The field of biomedical science has been seen by
Singapore as a totally different field of specialization as compared to the other three key
fields. First is that biomedical science would require an entire value chain in Singapore
ranging from basic research to clinical trials, product/process development, full-scale
manufacturing and healthcare delivery (Okamoto, 2009). Another factor that was seen is
that unlike the electronics cluster that relies on a large anchor company with
surrounding supply chains the biomedical science relies in the laboratories of

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universities or public research institutes. The field is highly dependent on scientific

knowledge as compared to the well-established fields of engineering and chemistry.
In the first phase between the year 2000 to 2005, Singapore placed key building blocks
and programs that would establish core scientific biomedical research capabilities by
building up its human, intellectual and industrial capacity.
Before the start of the biotechnology clusters in Singapore there was already a strong
presence of foreign pharmaceutical companies. These companies have been attracted to
establish firms in Singapore in to manufacture pharmaceuticals and at the same time
make a strong presence in the ASEAN region. The presence of these pharmaceutical
firms has a positive effect on the biotechnology industry of Singapore; since the field of
pharmaceutical is going to touch biotechnology, several of the foreign pharmaceutical
firms in Singapore made foreign direct investments:
Roche established its translational medicine hub with 30 scientists partnering
with Singapores scientific and medical institutions. These hub was built to
accelerate drug discovery and development.
Bayer Healthcare invested an additional S$14.5 million in five projects with local
academic institutions to advance R&D to improve early diagnosis and treatment of
cancer. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) established its first Academic Centre of
Excellence in Singapore and its first four projects focusing on early-stage research in
ophthalmology, regenerative medicine and neuro-degeneration to elucidate new
mechanisms of action for innovative medicines.
The government of Singapore is the main mover for the creation of a biotechnology
industry, in its commitment the government built Biopolis which is a $300 million facility
dedicated for R&D efforts of both pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. The facility
currently houses more than 2000 scientists and is equipped with cutting edge technology for
research. The biopolis complex (Figure 2) is divided into five major institutes:
Institute of molecular and cell biology
Institute of bioengineering and nanotechnology
Genome institute of Singapore
Bioprocessing Institute of Singapore
Bioinformatics Institute

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Figure 2. The Biopolis complex in Singapore where R&D on biomedical sciences

are concentrated
In terms of equipping the population with research capabilities, the government of
Singapore led by A*star increased the number of people pursuing advanced graduate
degrees. According to report by A*star the rate of researchers to workers in 1990 is
28:10000 and 88:10000 in 2009; in 1990 there are 970 PhDs while 6751 in 2009. The
number of publication alone in 2005 has also increased with a total of 300 scientific
papers in the worlds top scientific journal and 392 in 2007 (Okamoto, 2009).
Company Vision, Goals, and AttitudesRegarding Technological Learning and Catch-up
The goal pf AIT is to become a leader in the field of biotechnology in the Asian region. It
aims to provide diagnostic products and molecular biology applications in Singapore
and the rest of the Asian countries.
Attitude Regarding Technological Learning and Catch-up
According to Mr. Thian, a biotech firm such as AIT biotech needs several factors to be
successful in a very small market such as Singapore. The so call ingredients to thrive
in the biotechnology industry are:

GAP analysis of the demand and value of the product that the company
intends to offer.

Intellectual properties that should be generated in order for a company to

thrive and innovate.

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Resources and research that is needed to find new avenues for growth. With
this he cited the partnership with the government for startup funding and
hiring foreign consultants for expertise.

Longevity that is the result of continuous innovation

Structure and system which is what can be seen in AIT now as it transforms
into a more complex company from R&D up to a technology incubator.

Looking at these five ingredients; it can be deduced that AIT as a company is very open
to different methods in order to catch up in the field of biotechnology. It encourages
innovation via research and also placed strong emphasis on the contribution of the
people in the company and government support.
Technology Acquisition Methods Used by the Company
Internal R&D with networking
The R&D of AIT was internal, making use of the data that coming from existing journals and
conferences on molecular biology. Before conducting the internal R&D, AIT hired the people
who had the know-how on making diagnostic kits. It has also made networks with the academe.

Seizing tacit knowledge

Another branch of AIT is on sequencing, the acquisition of AIT for this technology came
by standard learning process which started from being trained by equipment suppliers.
The techniques for this process was then further optimized by the experienced
technicians and has since then grown.
For the development of diagnostics, the internal R&D on the development of the H1N1 real
time diagnostic kit paved the way for the researchers to gain experience in optimizing the right
composition of the products. Though there are no written indication, it can also be possible that
the data coming from the sequencing branch of AIT can be used to make the diagnostic kits.
Reverse engineering
No indication that the company has made efforts in reverse engineering. But the original
company of Mr. Thian is a distribution company that offers diagnostic kits. Since selling
the company, Mr. Thian established AIT and made diagnostic kits. This could possibly be
a move that is being done by the company presently as it becomes a local supplier for
molecular biology equipment and laboratory supplies distributor.
Technology prospecting
Since the company has been producing diagnostic kits for infectious diseases. It
diverged its effort into developing diagnostic kits for cancer and detection kits in the
field veterinary medicine and forensics. Another field that the company is pursuing is the
field of pharmacogenomics.

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R&D Strategic partnership

AIT entered a new field in the form of a private sector service provider in cooperation
with the Singapore Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING). AIT was
commissioned to assist in identifying, developing and commercializing IPs in the field of
medical technology. It was awarded a fund of $ 3 million to assist researches in the
National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.
Joint venture with technology provider
AIT has formed an alliance with Eppendorf which is a well-known brand in the molecular
bioscience field. Additionally, AIT has formed also an alliance with BD biosciences which
is a leading brand in diagnostics. BD will be the supplier of AIT kits that are compatible
with the BD equipment for diagnostics.
Hiring individual specialists
One of the important technology acquisition method by AIT; the company cited the hiring
of two of the most important consultants:
Dr. Eric Wilkinson who is a technology consultant from the United States. He has
30 years of experience in the field of biotechnology as a scientist and executive.
During his career he was able to establish 5 biotech companies and managed
Dr. David Klinzig who was first based in the Philippines as a scientist consultant
for the biosurveillance of infectious disease and genomic technologies. He is now
the deputy director of technology in AIT.
Purchasing technology
This external method is the earliest form of acquisition of AIT. Based on records the
company started as a service company offering sequencing and manufacturing of
oligonucleotide probes. Since there are no IPs on these technology, AIT purchased the
machine and started doing services. The initial procurement of AIT for the next
generation sequencers were considered a failure since Mr. Alex Thian mentioned that the
equipment became obsolete after 2 years.
Technological Learning and Catch-up Undertaken by the Company
Unlike the other industry, biotechnology R&D to develop diagnostic kits are relatively
simpler. The equipment needed can be small and cheap.
The biotechnology industry relies heavy on the know-how of the personnel. More
importantly are data analysis and the knowledge on molecular level interaction of
biological materials. In the case of AIT and Singapore, the investment primarily is on
personnel first is to attract the talent coming abroad and develop the knowledge in the
country. Second is the establishment of facilities that would enable R&D to be conducted
at a high level, one answer to this need is the creation of Biopolis that fostered innovation along
by the creation of an environment where research collaboration is encouraged.

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National Policies Affecting Technological Capability-Building of the Company

Singaporehas atremendouseconomictransformation since gaining independence from
the United Kingdom over 50years ago. Inthe1960s Singapore had a low employment
and education rate. In 1961, the Economic Development Board(EDB)wassetupto
executeeconomicstrategiestospur economic growth. Among these strategies was to
attract foreign investor to create jobs for Singaporeans. In the decades that followed
Singapore developed several key industries, meeting the objective of economic
Singaporenowstrivestodevelopintoaknowledgeeconomy continues to push foreign
companiesto innovate,investintheirpeopleandcreatehighvaluejobs.


Singapores R&D policy

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
In 1990, the Singapore government created the National Science and Technology Board
to implement the countrys first five year national technology plan to boost the nations
economy and push it towards becoming knowledge intensive. With a budget of S$2
billion, the NSTB was tasked with developing Singapore as an R&D hub by boosting
competitiveness through science and technology.
From 1996 to 2000, the board implemented its second five year plan, which saw
investment in R&D doubled to S$4 billion. After recognizing the potential of the biomedical
sciences, the Singaporean government sought to establish biomedical sciences as one of the
key pillars of the Singaporean economy through the creation of the Biomedical Sciences
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By 2002, the National Science and Technology Board was renamed to its current name,
the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). A*STAR is the largest
public R&D organization and is funded by the countrys Ministry of Trade and Industry. A*STAR
seeks to strengthen knowledge development in Singapore and to support innovation through
collaboration with industrial partners and create an economic impact that benefits the entire
nation. It is now one of the leaders of scientific research and consists of 14 research institutes
which focus on biomedical sciences and physical sciences & engineering.
With the biomedical sciences identified as a new growth area in Singapore, government
investments in research continued to rise; with S$6 billion budgeted for 2001 to 2005,
and a further S$13.9 billion in the 2006 to 2010 science and technology plan.
By 2010, public expenditure on research and development doubled, from 0.4% to 0.8% of
the GDP, while the number of research scientists in the public sector quadrupled, to
nearly 13,000. This steadily increasing national research budget reflects the importance
given by the Singaporean government to science, technology and research and echoes
its value to the nations growth and development.

Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC)

To further support the development of a knowledge intensive economy, the Research,
Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC) was set up in 2006. It is chaired by the
Prime Minister and gives advice to the Singapore Cabinet on national research and
innovation policies and strategies. The RIEC has an operational division called the
National Research Foundation (NRF) which is assigned to develop and coordinate
national policies related to research and innovation. Every five years, the RIEC develops
a national R&D master plan. In the councils Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2015,
the Singapore government committed to spend S$16.1 billion in research, innovation and
enterprise between 2011 and 2015 with the objective of establishing Singapore as a world-class
R&D hub. The RIE 2015 has a strong focus on multidisciplinary and public-private
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research. Singapore wants to improve the transformation from innovation to enterprise

by providing funds to support industry collaboration and stiumlate researchers to
commercialize their innovations.
A significant part of public expenditure goes to Biomedical science and receives 33.4%
of funding. This aligns with the research priorities of NRF, which are Biomedical
Sciences, Interactive & Digital Media en Physical Sciences & Engineering. Table 1 gives an
overview of research areas, which specifically relate to the application of high tech systems
and materials.

The Biomedical Sciences Initiative

In 2000, Singapore launched its Biomedical Sciences (BMS) initiative to develop the
Biomedical Sciences industry as one of the economys key pillars of growth. The BMS
initiative is led by the RIEC and is chaired by Prime Minister and coordinated by a BMS
Executive Committee, chaired by A*STAR Chairman and the Permanent Secretary for
Health. This Executive Committee in turn consults with the Biomedical Sciences
International Advisory Council (BMS IAC) which is composed of renowned scientists.
Three key agencies work together to develop the BMS cluster. These three groups are
the A*STARs Biomedical Research Council (BMRC), the Economic Development Board's
(EDB) Biomedical Sciences Group (BMSG) and the Ministry of Healths (MOH) National
Medical Research Council (NMRC).

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When the Biomedical Sciences Initiative was created in 2000, three phases of implementation
were identified.
Phase 1 (2000-2005): Building the Foundation- The first phase of development (2000-2005)
focused on establishing a firm foundation of basic biomedical research in Singapore by
developing core public research capabilities in the areas of bioprocessing, chemical synthesis,
genomics and proteomics, molecular and cell biology, bioengineering and nanotechnology, and
computational biology to support the BMS cluster, comprising the four key sectors:
pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology and healthcare services.
Phase 2 (2006-2010): Strengthening Translational and Clinical Research Capabilities- The
second phase of development (2006-2010) focuses on strengthening capabilities in translational
and clinical research, while continuing to build up basic research capabilities.
Phase 3 (2011-2015): Capturing Opportunities for Greater Economic and Health ImpactBuilding on this foundation created over the last 10 years, BMRC will support the next phase of
the BMS Initiative through focusing its efforts in 3 main areas to capture the growing
opportunities arising from global trends in the BMS industry.
1. Enhanced Industry Engagements for Greater Economic Outcomes
2. Focusing on Mission-Oriented Programs with high growth potential
3. Seamless integration and translation as key competitive advantages
The Singaporean Ministry of Trade and Industrys SPRING seeks to make Singaporean
companies more competitive by helping enterprises with financing, commercialization of
innovation and access to markets. Among the commercialization programs of SPRING are the
start-up financing program called Start-up Enterprise Development Scheme, and the R&D
funding program called the Technological Enterprise Commercialization Scheme.
Public-Private Partnerships
With strong government support, Singapore has established a strong track record and
foundation in biomedical sciences manufacturing and R&D activities. As such, Singapore
continuous to remain open to partnerships between the public sector R&D institutions with
leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. For Roche established its Singapore
Hub for Translational Medicine and Bayer Healthcare invested an additional S$14.5 million in
five projects with local academic institutions to advance R&D to improve early diagnosis and
treatment of cancer.
In recent years, other pharmaceutical companies have also partnered or collaborated with
A*STAR and other government institutions.
Maccine is collaborating with A*STARs Singapore Bio imaging Consortium to form a
comprehensive Translational Imaging Industrial Lab (TIIL) to push the boundaries in
state-of-the-art preclinical imaging to enhance the drug development process.
Siena Biotech is partnering A*STARs Experimental Therapeutics Centre to develop
molecular inhibitors of a major signaling pathway in oncology to target difficult-to-treat
forms of cancer such as gastric cancer, leukemia and brain tumors.
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Humalys SAS and Cytos Biotechnology are working with the Singapore Immunology
Network to develop antibody-based therapies for infectious diseases that are prevalent
in Asia.
Novartis (which houses more than 100 researchers from 18 nationalities at the Novartis
Institute for Tropical Diseases) teamed up with the A*STAR, and other institutions and
have discovered a new drug against malaria called spiroindolone NITD609.
GSK Biologicals and A*STARs Bioprocessing Technology Institute collaborated on the
S$2 million public-private partnership on vaccine and adjuvant system-related research
projects. In 2009.

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5.7 Analysis of the Critical Success Factors in the Companys Technology Acquisition,
Learning, and Catch-up
The story of Singaporean Small and MedieumEnterpirse (SME), AITbiotech, is another great
example of how public and private sectors can partner to drive impact in Singapore's healthcare
and biomedical industries.
The first successful collaboration of AITbiotech with the public sector was in 2010, when the
company acquired several moleculardiagnostic licenses from A*STAR for multiple pathogen
detection and surveillance assays including the H1N1, Dengue, Chikungunya and
Tuberculosis. These assays were developed at the A*STAR Institute of Molecular and Cell
Biology and the Experimental Therapeutics Centre.
According to A*STAR, AITbiotech was able to successfully commercialize the assays under its
abTES brand. AITbiotech now manufactures these assays in its ISO 13485 certified lab in
Singapore and are providing hospitals, labs and clinicians a time and cost saving tool to detect
as well as to differentiate the nature and type of influenza or dengue infection with enhanced
high sensitivity and precision. Proper diagnosis and treatment of patients directly benefit the
health care sector in Singapore and the region in the fight against infectious diseases. Further,
the assays have generated sales and are being used in hospitals in Thailand, Hong Kong,
Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
The second collaboration was in 2012, when A*STAR and AITbiotech jointly development of an
H5N1Avian Influenza real-time PCR assay. It is the most comprehensive and rapid H5N1 burd
flu test kit available to date. Within a few hours, the assay can rapidly detect all existing 52
genetic variants of the H5N1 Avian Influenza viruses and their respective sub-groups in a single
test with almost 100% accuracy. At the time, the standard of the World Health Organization
(WHO) for H5N1 detection was 3 out of the 10 distinct genetic variants per test and to detect all
existing strains with this method would require several days and rounds of testing.
These kits were developed by A*STAR and Biothech, but with financial support from SPRING
Singapores Technology Innovation Programme (TIP), and after its successful collaborations,
AITbotech partnership with SPING has evolved.
In 2013, SPRING Singapore set aside $10 million fund to help SMEs in the medical and clean
technology sectors develop and commercialize technology ideas into products and services. As
part of the initiative, SPRING appointed three private sector providers to act as translators
(PSTs),AITbiotech was one of the companies. As a PST, the company will identify, develop and
commercialize Intellectual Property (IP) for the medical technology industry. The PSTs will
identify suitable IP and help develop these into usable technology for their SME clients. Hence,
the PSTs will do the job of translating lab research into working prototypes which can be
commercialized into innovative products and services.
According to SPRING, such technology-based products will put SMEs in a stronger position to
compete in an increasingly competitive and crowded marketplace, where those with niche
capabilities will be faced with higher barriers to entry. Besides the translation of IP, the PSTs will
provide R&D services such as validation and feasibility studies. A total of 40 IP translation
projects and 200 R&D services will be undertaken by the PSTs over the next three years.
According to Alex Thian, the founder and CEO of AITbiotech, licensing these sophisticated
assays from A*STAR gave their company a springboard they needed to compete in the highly
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competitive market of Molecular Diagnostics. Thian also said that one for for SMEs to stay
competitive is by public private partnerships like the one it has with A*STAR.
AITbiotech has 40 employees working exclusively on product development and services in a
10,000 sqft state-of-art and ISO 13485 IVD-certified laboratory in Science Park I, which allows
them to conduct molecular diagnostic technology development and production as well as DNA
sequencing and production.
Comparison of the companys technological learning and capabilities with those of its
principal Philippine counterpart.
The medical technology sector in the Philippines is highly dependent on imports.
Foreign suppliers usually appoint a licensed distributor to sell their products in
Philippines. Usually, the distributors handle all aspects of importation from registration
of the products to obtaining a license and clearance. The local distributor not only helps
facilitate the products entry into the market, but also assumes responsibility for
advertising and promotion through sales and dealer networks.
It is the same in Singapore wherein foreign companies appoint a local distributor to
represent their companys products and services. The founder of AITbiotech, Mr. Alex
Thian, started first a distribution company in Singapore. This distribution company
brought in SARS diagnostics kits from Germany during the 2003 SARS crisis and
distributed them to hospitals. However, they sold the distribution company to a
multinational corporation realizing that the products were very expensive and decided to
use the knowledge he had obtained from distributing the products to start his own
company, AITbiotech, in 2008.
AITbiotech is not just a distributor of imported medical technology products but also a
molecular service company offering sequencing technologies and DNA probe
manufacturing. They have become a leading provider of genomic services and molecular
diagnostic kits to the research, healthcare and biomedical industries in Singapore and
AITbiotech has also secured ISO 13485:2003 certification, for design, development and
manufacturing of IVD medical devices for detection of infectious diseases; and
manufacturing of oligonucleotides and sequencing services. With the certification
AITbiotech will be able to obtain CE certification for its molecular diagnostics assays.
The company was the first genomic services provider in Asia to secure 13845:2003
certification for its genomic services.
AITbiotech continues to transforms into a more complex company from R&D up to a
technology incubator. The company initiates and sets up a new division, AITventures, to
commercialize life science and diagnostic technologies in Singapore. Building on in-house
capabilities and global network of consultants AITventures will be able to provide
commercialization services to public institutions as well as start-ups in the areas of
diagnostic technologies commercialization including prototyping, clinical trials, product
and process development, manufacturing and regulatory compliance.
Important learnings and lessons for Philippine companies

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Singapore has position itself as an attractive location to conduct biomedical sciences

and medical technology research. It has invested to build up key R&D infrastructures and
capabilities to support the countrys biomedical initiative. The government of Singapore also
provided funds to help SMEs in the medical technology sector to develop and commercialize
technology ideas into products and services. AITbiotech was appointed as a private
sector translator that will identify, develop and commercialize Intellectual Property for the
medical technology.
AITbiotech has successfully developed and commercialized innovative Molecular
Diagnostics assays through its internal R&D and close collaboration with Singapores
leading research institutions and healthcare providers. With their experience and expertise in
Molecular Diagnostics they were able to manufacture made-in-Singapore Molecular Diagnostics
assays. They have proved that getting things right and hiring the right people could lead to a
domestic market opportunity as well as setting up the right manufacturing capabilities.
Philippine companies can follow the model of AITBiotech. AITbiotech started as a local
distributor of imported products but they realized that they can manufacture their own
products through building their own capability by conducting internal R&D and
collaborating with the public sector, research institutes and healthcare providers. They have
taken advantage on the knowledge and experience in distributing imported products in creating
their own products and services and they have build their own expertise and capacity.
However, it is important for the government of the Philippines to help nurture local
companies by providing funds to develop and commercialize technology ideas into
products and services. Lack of early stage funding is a key factor limiting innovation in
medical technology. Incentives should be place to reward developing market appropriate
Recently, a Philippine Biomedical Device Innovation Consortium (PBDIC) was set up to
pave the way in developing biomedical devices and products in the Philippines. It
recognizes the need to develop affordable, safe, and reliable devices and products for
research and development. It aims to consolidate, design and implement activities that
will support the biomedical device innovation ecosystem.
Through the governments initiative and the support of the private sector, the Philippines
could follow Singapores model and create an ecosystem for medical technology
innovation which will translate innovative medical technologies into local products and
AITbiotech acquired the knowledge in product commercialization through their
experience in distribution of imported products. As an SME, making the leap from
development to building a market viable product would be relatively difficult for
AITbiotech compared to a Multi-national corporation. To overcome the challenges,
AITbiotech collaborated with the public sector, research institute, and healthcare
providers to translate their innovative medical technology into products and services.
Through collaboration, AITbiotech was able to get support and build their capacity and
expertise in identifying and commercializing innovative medical technology into

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TM 241; RDP-02Foreign Case Study

products and services. They also reduced their dependence on imported medical
technology and they were able to manufacture their own products.

AIT Biotech Press Release July 6, 2011 (
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Poh, LC. 2010. Innovation Policy around the World: Singapore: Betting on Biomedical
Sciences. Issues in Science and Technology. Vol 26 Issue 3
Okamoto, Y. 2009. Creating a Biotechnology Cluster: Lessons to learn from Singapores
Experience.Doshisha University Policy Studies (3).198-217.
A*STAR.Mind to Market, an ETPL RIE 2015 Midterm Report. June 2015.
Van der Drift, S. 2014. Netherlands Enterprise Agency.Innovation Landscape in

BiosSpectrum. AITbiotech gets ISO certificate for genomic services. October

Singapore Biotech Guide 2014/2015. Overview of Singapores Biomedical
Sciences Industry. (

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