Singapore set out to become a global biotech hub back in 2000, and, although still awaiting its big success story in the industry, it is currently a leading hub in the APAC region for R&D, biopharma manufacturing, and commercial operations, with a growing startup ecosystem that includes numerous biotech companies.
In 2000, the government in Singapore made biomedical research the fourth pillar of the city’s state economy, known as the National Biomedical Science Strategy. Then, in 2003, under the initiative, the country established Biopolis, which is a custom-built biomedical R&D hub. Over the next 20 years or so, billions of dollars were invested in the life sciences sector.
Nowadays, despite the presence of global companies in the region, Singapore is still focusing on growing its own biotech community. And, as it relies on its network of top universities and research institutions, there are several companies popping up across the country.
In this article, we take a look at six of those companies (in alphabetical order), all of which are showing growth across different areas within the biotech industry in Singapore.
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Having secured a seed funding round of $3 million in April this year, Singapore-based biotech company Albatroz Therapeutics is developing therapeutic antibodies against a novel target that degrades the extracellular matrix (ECM). The novel ECM degradation target is a protein complex activated by a glycosylation pathway, which plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of solid tumors and arthritis – the two indications that the company is currently focused on.
While at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore, Fred Bard, the chief executive officer (CEO) and scientific co-founder of Albatroz, discovered the pathway that controls protein glycosylation and drives ECM degradation. The study of this pathway led to the discovery of the company’s novel target, which becomes exposed at the cell surface after glycosylation. Activation of this target occurs specifically in tumors and arthritic synovial membranes, connective tissue that lines the joint capsule.
Albatroz’s targeted antibodies have high specificity for this target, selectively reducing extracellular matrix degradation while also minimizing toxicity.
Furthermore, Albatroz has recently become a recognized leader in the Singapore biotech community. Earlier this year, the company announced it was the first Amgen ‘Golden Ticket’ recipient in Singapore, whereby it was awarded a one-year free residency in NSG Biolabs’ fully-equipped, turnkey, and certified BSL-2 laboratory, alongside additional facility benefits, and connections to Amgen’s scientific and business leaders.
A Singapore synthetic biology startup, Allozymes’ mission is essentially to upend traditional manufacturing methods through rapid, sustainable enzyme engineering. The company points out that using chemical processes to manufacture ingredients is highly polluting, while current methods of isolating natural ingredients from plants and animals are also damaging to the environment, as they typically utilize high volumes of biomass, energy, water, and land. This is why the Singapore-based biotech company wants to create custom-designed enzymes; in order to solve this issue in a sustainable and scalable fashion.
Allozymes has employed a proprietary microfluidics technology to build its next-generation enzyme engineering platform, which can build and test millions of enzymes per day. This boosts the likelihood of success in being able to develop the most effective enzymes. It is also significant, because, generally speaking, finding new and useful enzymes is a complex, slow process, so the fact that Allozymes can screen up to around ten million enzymes per day, represents a significant improvement in this area compared to using traditional robotics technology.
Allozymes also has an ongoing partnership with GenScript, a global biotechnology group. As part of the collaboration, Allozymes provides an ultra-high-throughput screening service for applications across various industries, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and food and beverage, while GenScript provides the mutant libraries construction and expression.
Singapore-based biotech company Gero is working in the field of longevity, hoping to cure root causes of chronic diseases, as well as slow down aging itself. It is a pre-clinical stage company, and its aim is to create therapeutics through the use of AI, with its GERO.AI platform being used for drug discovery purposes.
The company’s approach is to apply machine learning algorithms originating from the physics of complex systems to build clinically relevant disease progression models in real-world human data and identify clusters of diseases with shared biology. After this, the AI-enhanced genetic study on the progression models, in conjunction with whole-exome sequencing data, reveals novel therapeutic targets that are potentially applicable to several indications simultaneously.
Gero also has a platform called GeroSense, which creates digital biomarkers to measure health changes via smartphone with a precision blood test.
In January 2023, Gero announced that it had entered a research collaboration with Pfizer to apply its machine learning technology platform to discover potential targets for fibrotic diseases, using large-scale human-based data.
Hummingbird Bioscience – which raised $125 million in series C financing in 2021, led by Novo Holdings – is attempting to lead a new way of engineering precision biotherapeutics that can define the future of precision medicine, with a focus on important biologically validated targets in cancer and autoimmune disease that have previously been elusive and difficult to drug.
The Singapore-based biotech company has a proprietary Rational Antibody Discovery platform, which it uses to discover and engineer precision therapies, and unlock the therapeutic potential of these targets. It then uses biomarker-driven clinical trials to maximize the probability of successful clinical development.
Hummingbird’s lead candidate (currently in phase 1b trials) is HMBD-001. It is an anti-HER3 monoclonal antibody, meaning it targets HER3, which is a potent driver of tumor growth and resistance against cancer drugs, as its activation is driven by the dimerization with HER2 and EGFR, triggering the MAPK/PI3K signaling pathway that promotes cancer cell division and growth. HMBD-001 is engineered to bind strongly and specifically to the dimerization interface of HER3, which allows it to interfere with HER3’s ability to dimerize and block its activation.
In May this year, Hummingbird announced that it had entered into a clinical trial collaboration and supply agreement with Merck to evaluate HMBD-001 in combination with Merck’s cetuximab in squamous non-small cell lung carcinoma.
Based in Singapore, biotech company KBP Biosciences has built a proprietary discovery platform that it says incorporates world-class processes for novel compound identification established around two major areas – organ protection and anti-infection. The platform includes a substantial compound library, high-volume screening and optimization techniques, and a pharmacological experiment platform for evaluating pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics (PK/PD) and toxicology for various novel drug candidates. The platform has generated each of KBP’s candidates currently in clinical and preclinical development.
KBP’s small molecule compound library includes rich chemical entities consisting of compounds designed and synthesized by the company with unique chemical structures and high potency, compounds synthesized based on different core structures that cover almost all known core structures, as well as a natural product library of compounds extracted from plants, marine organisms, and microorganisms.
On Monday October 16, it was announced that Novo Nordisk had agreed to acquire ocedurenone for uncontrolled hypertension, with potential application in cardiovascular and kidney disease, from KBP for up to $1.3 billion. Ocedurenone was KPB’s lead candidate, and is an orally administered, small molecule, non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (nsMRA) that is currently in phase 3 trials.
Headquartered in Singapore, with sites also in Boston and Shanghai, RVAC Medicines is an mRNA platform company, focusing on the development and commercialization of mRNA therapeutics and vaccines across a range of disease areas, including COVID-19.
In fact, earlier this year, the biotech company received approval from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) to initiate a phase 1b clinical trial in Singapore to evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of three COVID-19 mRNA vaccine candidates. The candidates include one vaccine against the ancestral strain, one against an Omicron strain, and a bivalent vaccine candidate with components of both ancestral and Omicron strains.
Additionally, in March this year, RVAC announced a research collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, which is focused on the discovery and development of mRNA vaccines that can modulate the body’s normal immune response as possible treatments for certain autoimmune diseases and allergic conditions.
And, more recently, in June this year, it was announced that the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), will provide funding of up to $3 million to advance and accelerate the manufacturing process for RVAC’s next-generation mRNA vaccine platform technology. The reason for the partnership is that, using innovative manufacturing approaches, RVAC’s mRNA platform could speed up the manufacturing of mRNA vaccines, and help to get doses into arms more quickly when responding to future epidemic or pandemic diseases.
Singapore’s biotech scene: looking ahead
Singapore’s stance as a leading R&D hub in the APAC region, alongside its considerable investment in life sciences, and network of top universities and research institutions, means that it has the potential to grow its biotech sector even further in the coming years. Furthermore – as can be seen from the fact that many of the companies listed in this article are startups – the country’s growing startup ecosystem will also allow for the launch of more and more biotech companies, so that they can continue to bring their innovative ideas forward onto the world stage.