KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY MR PHILIP YEO, CHAIRMAN, EDB AND CO-CHAIRMAN, NSTB, AT THE SECOND COMBINED ANNUAL SCIENTIFIC MEETING AT THE CRC AUDITORIUM, FACULTY OF MEDICINE (NUS), ON SEPTMBER 8, 2000 AT 9.30 AM
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good morning. I am glad that scientists and researchers and the Molecular Biology community here today have this annual opportunity to gather and discuss emerging new therapies and challenges in the biomedical sciences.
2. This 21st century has been termed the “Biocentury”. Rapid and almost daily advances in Life Science discoveries and developments, including the near completion of the Human Genome Project, have opened up whole new frontiers and are spawning new, potentially exciting bio-industries.
3. The field of Life Science offers good prospects for Singapore. For the past 15 years, we have carefully built up our basic infrastructure of Life Science research institutes and centres, ranging from molecular biology to bioprocessing and bioinformatics. Our goal is to develop our research capabilities across the full value chain: from basic to applied and clinical research. We have achieved good progress at the universities, research institutes and hospitals in various areas in the Life Sciences. We can now gather, consolidate and reposition them to move faster and take advantage of the new developments in the Life Science industry.
4. In June, we launched the Singapore Genomics Program (“SGP”) to stimulate and lead multi-disciplinary research in the area of disease Genomics. I have asked the SGP team to organise a scientific symposium on the 29th September in this same auditorium. This symposium will feature several prominent overseas speakers as well as details on how the SGP will work to lead and support genomics research in Singapore.
Manpower Training and Development
5. Talent is key to Singapores success in the Life Sciences. In the New Economy, the basis of competition will hinge on the ability to create knowledge and to use knowledge creatively. The IT industry, especially the dot.coms and E-commerce, have relatively low barriers to entry. Winners are usually those who are first to the market place. Their victories and successes are fleeting. Most have to quickly merge and grow bigger to survive.
6. The Life Science industry has high intellectual and capital barriers to entry. Life Science is an intellectually challenging and disciplined industry. Capital investment for Life Science is high. The training of Life Science people takes many years. But with full commitment and sustained, concerted efforts, we can attain strong domain advantage. Life Science is a therefore better target industry for Singapore.
7. EDB started the Life Science Manpower Development programme this year: to train more scientists and researchers and widen those in the field with greater exposure in the international scientific arena, so that they can return to help us to compete in this highly knowledge-intensive field.
8. Our programme covers:
* Postgraduate Scholarships for overseas study at top universities in US & Europe
* MBBS-PhD Scholarships to train a new breed of clinician-scientists
* Fellowship Programme for PhD and post-doctoral students based overseas, as well as,
* Exchange Programme for Singapore-based researchers/scientists
9. Since the launch of the programme in April, we have awarded 8 Postgraduate Scholarships. The scholars will pursue PhD programmes at overseas institutions in the US and UK. Three will begin their studies this fall. Our steady state target is to award 20 Postgraduate Scholarships per year.
10. For the first time, this year, we awarded scholarships to 4 scholars who have just started the joint MBBS-PhD programme at NUS. We will award 5 to 10 scholarships in the coming years. Two EDB undergraduate science scholars this Fall will do pre-medical and then joint MD-PhD schooling in the US. We will expand this to attract more bright Singapore students to do MD-PhD programs.
11. For the Fellowship programme, we have received good applications and are selecting candidates for interviews. We are planning to award 12 Fellowships each year and there is no bond attached for this programme.
12. Because of Singapores tiny size and limited human resources, we must further our advancement in science and technology through international collaboration in training and research. Under the Exchange Programme, scientists will be attached to top research institutes such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of USA and Karolinska Institute in Sweden. This will expose scientists to leading edge biomedical research and enhance their networks within the international scientific community. We are also expanding the programmes to include industrial attachments to top pharmaceutical and biotech companies so those scientists can be exposed to cutting edge R&D in the industry.
13. At the undergraduate level, under the Glaxo Wellcome-EDB Scholarships and ExxonMobil-EDB Scholarships, 15 students were awarded scholarships this year, to pursue degrees in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biomedical Engineering. They will pursue their studies in top overseas universities in USA and UK. We will increase the number of overseas awards to 20 per year. For those who excel, they will be encouraged to do their PhD training.
14. Life Science is an exciting field where ongoing technological revolution promises to change human life itself. We will all be a part of this knowledge revolution. Understanding Genetics will become as essential as learning to use a computer and speaking a language. There is nothing more important than Life itself. So we must know “What is Life?” (Erwin Schrödingers question in his 1944 book). We must prepare our people from a young age so that everyone can grow up with a basic understanding and appreciation of Life Science. Those who are bright and have an inclination to do research can be motivated to pursue a stimulating career in the Life Sciences.
15. At the school level, MOE is looking into a policy framework for teaching and learning of life sciences in schools. They have also set up a committee with scientific and industry experts to review the biology syllabus and ensure it are updated and reflect the new developments in Life Science.
16. Teachers have to keep up to date on biology trends so that they can teach the New Biology to students in this Life Science era. I have asked NSTB to extend manpower development programmes to science teachers. We can send our teachers to top overseas labs and institutes and even biotech companies, so that they can be exposed to the latest discoveries and applications of science and technology. There will also be short programmes where science teachers will be sent to well-known, science-oriented high schools and colleges in the US to learn how science is taught creatively in these schools. In doing so, they will play a crucial role to initiate the spark of curiosity in our young students towards finding out more about the marvels of the human body.
17. We will pay close attention to career paths in Life Science for scientists, and help students understand the opportunities available to them, should they choose to pursue careers in Life Science. At present, most students who take biology do so with the sole intention of pursuing a medical degree. In the future, careers in life sciences research not only offers the excitement of discovering powerful solutions to treating diseases but also the opportunity of substantial financial rewards.
18. EDB and NSTB will continue to work closely together with you, the scientific community, the schools and institutions, and the industry to strengthen and grow Life Science in Singapore. On this note, I wish you a fruitful discussion and enjoyable time ahead.
Source: Singapore Economic Development Board