26 Sep 2015

Opening of the Singapore Scientific Conference 2015 - Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office

Science in Singapore:

Improving Lives, Generating Knowledge, Creating Jobs


Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman, Agency for Science Technology and Research,

Dr Sydney Brenner, A*STAR Senior Fellow and Scientific Advisor to A*STAR Chairman

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Science in Singapore has reached a key milestone


              Good afternoon, and a warm welcome to the Singapore Scientific Conference, where we celebrate 50 years of science in Singapore.


2.           In 1967, we set up our first scientific advisory board, the Science Council. The Science Council evaluated its first research proposals in 1969 – just seven proposals, and all were in the agro-fisheries sector![1] Science education in our early years was rudimentary and lacked rigour. From 1970 to 1975, the United Nation's economic mission to Singapore identified a shortage of about 500 engineers and 1,000 technical workers annually.[2]


Our R&D ecosystem has matured and we are emphasising translation into value for society


3.           We have come some way in science since then. We have invested in research and development, to enhance the competitiveness and productivity of our economy. Today, we have a vibrant R&D ecosystem. Researchers in our Research Centres of Excellence conduct world-class, cutting-edge research in microelectronics, quantum technologies, cancer science, mechanobiology, environmental life sciences engineering, regional natural hazards and climate change.[3] Researchers in our research institutes, universities and public healthcare institutions work together to continually make breakthroughs in the biomedical sciences.  

4.           Large local companies like SingTel and DBS are also doing more R&D, to enhance their efficiency and competitiveness. SembCorp Marine, a local marine and offshore company, has been working with our research institutes[4] to improve energy efficiency in ships, reduce emissions of harmful gases, and enhance marine ecology.

5.           Through our investments in R&D, we have created many good and exciting jobs in Singapore. The number of research scientists and engineers has grown six times from 1991 (when we started our first Science and Technology Plan) to some 32,000 in 2013, with Singaporeans and PRs making up more than 70 per cent.[5]

6.           More importantly, R&D has helped to improve the lives of Singaporeans. One major area is healthcare, where our research focuses on addressing challenges that are particularly critical to Singapore. For example, glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Singapore affecting 3 per cent of seniors aged above 50. In 2014, researchers in Singapore[6] discovered specific genes linked to intra-ocular pressure and glaucoma risk. This discovery helps researchers better understand glaucoma, and could pave the way for effective interventions[7]

7.           This year, our first publicly-funded[8] cancer drug candidate (ETC-159) advanced to human trials. ETC-159 targets a number of cancers including colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, which are among the top 10 causes of cancer deaths in Singapore.[9] It can minimise the side effects experienced by cancer patients using conventional therapeutics. We wish them success at the drug trials, as a positive outcome could eventually benefit cancer patients not just in Singapore, but around the world.

8.           In the area of food and nutrition, Nestlé formed a strategic partnership with Agency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR) last year to do research that would enhance lives through healthier and tastier food. Besides nutrition, packaging, and data analytics, A*STAR and Nestlé will focus on biotransformation where natural processes such as fermentation and the use of enzymes and probiotics, can improve the flavour and digestibility of food products, and extend their shelf life.[10]

9.           Another area that we have been focusing on is urban living, as cities around the world tackle the challenges of urbanisation. Fujitsu's Centre of Excellence for sustainable urbanisation in Singapore uses high performance computing capabilities to develop solutions for sustainable urban operations such as improving commuter traffic in urban spaces, and optimising logistic and supply chain operations. In particular, researchers find Singapore useful as a "living lab" to test-bed next-generation solutions which can subsequently be adapted to other cities.

10.       Researchers from TUM-CREATE and Singapore-ETH Centre Future Cities Laboratory have developed a model that maps heat emissions from human activity and electricity consumption. This can be used to better manage energy consumption while creating a more comfortable living environment for Singaporeans.[11]

Our commitment to R&D remains strong. Science and Innovation will bring Singapore to the next stage of development


11.       R&D will continue to be a key enabler to help Singapore thrive in a world of tighter resources and more intense global competition. Under the current five-year Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2015 plan, the Government had committed $16.1b to support public and private R&D, develop manpower, and encourage innovation and enterprise efforts. 


12.       Our agencies have been working on the next five-year RIE 2020 plan. It will focus on priority areas, chosen based on an assessment of Singapore's competitive strengths and national needs. These include: advanced manufacturing to support the continued growth and economic competitiveness of our key manufacturing sectors, and generate good jobs. Biomedical sciences, to tackle diseases of relevance to Singaporeans, and to generate new growth in the life sciences sector. Digital technologies, to dovetail with our Smart Nation efforts to enhance public service delivery and create new business opportunities and growth. Urban solutions, to enhance our living environment as well as water and energy resilience, and may also be useful for other cities.


13.       As Singapore's R&D ecosystem continues to mature, we will sharpen our strategies, to generate more positive economic and societal outcomes from our R&D investments. We will do this through four main thrusts:


a)          First, adopt more coherent and integrated strategies. We will orientate planning and budgeting according to the priority areas to encourage greater inter-agency coordination;  
b)          Second, place greater emphasis on competition and renewal. We will introduce governance and funding mechanisms that not just fund only the best ideas but also periodically review projects and phase out under-performing ones;  
c)          Third, sharpen focus on value creation and capture.  We will help local firms grow, creating more employment opportunities and strengthening the Singapore brand. We will also enhance funding incentives to encourage R&D collaboration between public and private sector entities; and
d)          Fourth, build up a strong research and innovation workforce. We will try to match employers' demand for research and innovation manpower, and improve graduate employment opportunities. We will also build up managerial expertise in Innovation and Enterprise to better translate research into commercial and other uses. 



14.       As Singapore continues on our journey of science and research, let me take this opportunity to extend our deep appreciation to the members of the scientific community who have been pivotal in building up Singapore's research eco-system. We seek your continued support for our commitment to science, research and innovation, so that Singapore continues to thrive as a country of opportunities. With your help, we can generate knowledge, improve lives and create jobs – not just in Singapore for Singaporeans but also help to make the world a better place.


15.       I wish all of you a fruitful conference. Thank you.


[1] A*STAR – 20 Years of Science and Technology in Singapore Commemorative Publication

[2] http://www.oecd.org/countries/singapore/46581101.pdf

[3] Refers to the 5 Research Centres of Excellence and A*STAR which have attracted R&D collaborations with companies in the Electronics market like Global Foundries, Qualcomm, Murata, Micron, Applied Materials etc.

[4] Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) and Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech)

[5]Source: https://www.mti.gov.sg/NewsRoom/Pages/Speech-By-Mr-S-Iswaran,-Second-Minister-For-Trade-And-Industry,-During-The-Committee-Of-Supply-Debate-Under-Head.aspx
[6] While a team from Singapore Eye Research Institute drove the study, the discovery was a result of collaboration with researchers from the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS).


[8] This arose from collaborations between A*STAR's Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), the Drug Discovery and Development (D3) unit and Duke-NUS since 2009.

[9] Source:  http://www.nccs.com.sg/PatientCare/WhatisCancer/CancerStatistics/Pages/Home.aspx; the cancers highlighted are the top 10 frequent cancer deaths, 2011 to 2014.

[10]Collaborations will focus on R&D in areas of packaged food and beverages, food ingredients, nutrition, food manufacturing processes, food science and technology, and biotransformation. http://www.nestle.com/media/newsandfeatures/a-star-agreement

[11] http://www.create.edu.sg/docs/default-source/news-report/create-tum-fcl.pdf

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