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Vol 22, No. 08, August 2018   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Biotech start-ups in Singapore
Here are some biotech start-ups marking their mark in Singapore.

Singapore’s strong economy attracts and supports a diverse range of industries from aerospace and electronics, to banking and tourism. It is now becoming an emerging biotechnology hub, with the vibrant start-up culture and support given to global biomed, biopharma as well as medtech companies.

The Singapore biotech ecosystem has been growing rapidly with an increasing number of larger biotech companies and start-ups operating here. Their R&D expenditure has also increased in the past few years, from SGD 21 million in 2011 to SGD 186 million in 2016. As of 2017, there are 79 home-grown biotechs operating in Singapore.

In terms of funding, over USD 200 million (SGD 273 million) of private sector funding has been raised in the first six months of 2018. (Tessa – USD 130 million, ASLAN - USD42 million, MediSix – USD 20 million, Lion TCR – USD 20 million, Engine Biosciences – USD 10 million)

One reason for this growth, is the presence of strong R&D in Singapore. Singapore is home to Biopolis, an international research and development centre for biomedical sciences that provides collaboration among the private and public scientific community. It houses laboratories, research facilities, offices, and is also conducting pre-clinical trials there.

Biopolis has been playing the role of incubator and accelerator for biotech startups. Start-ups can access facilities such as co-innovation spaces that aim to incubate, develop, train and support technopreneurs to build successful business ventures. This also includes access to life science labs with facilities and equipment which start-ups may not otherwise be able to afford. This has resulted in the local biotech ecosystem gaining good momentum.

The rapid growth of the local biotech ecosystem helps position Singapore as a hub for biomedical sciences in Asia. Singapore is well-placed to emerge as a major player in this market due to its diverse population base, deep capabilities in biomedical research, and conducive environment for R&D. It is not coincidental that many of the biotechs here are focused on therapeutics and diagnostics for Asian-specific diseases. There will always be a demand for therapeutic and diagnostic solutions catered to the Asian phenotype, as Asia’s population continue to expand.

Here are some biotech start-ups who chose to establish themselves in Singapore’s emerging biotech hub.

AUM Biosciences

AUM Biosciences is a Singapore headquartered biotech company focused on developing innovative and affordable oncology therapeutics for Asian patients. AUM will harness the power of precision and digital medicine to disrupt the drug development process and accelerate development timelines, this helps to manage trial costs and improve patient outcomes.

Through partnerships with pharmaceutical industry and academia, AUM will in-license pre-IND or late stage pre-clinical assets for development through to proof of concept. By entering in mutually beneficial win-win arrangements from the future advancements of the drugs, AUM will develop a de-risked proof of concept pipeline. With this de-risked pipeline, AUM will seek partners to advance them further for late stage development and commercialization.

By 2019, AUM aims to build a pipeline of three small molecules that are designed to enable intra-pipeline combinatorial treatments across a broad range of tumour types prevalent and have a rising incidence in Asia.

AUM will conduct clinical trials in Asia, where the majority of its target patient population reside.

One BioMed

Singapore-based diagnostics company founded by Dr Park Mi Kyoung, One BioMed has established a joint laboratory with the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research’s (A*STAR) Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). The lab will focus on developing multiplexed and syndromic panels that address clinically relevant infectious diseases such as influenza, dengue, and tuberculosis in Asia. Its specialty is in the use of silicon photonics technology for biomedical diagnostics.

The molecular diagnostics assays will run on One Biomed’s forthcoming platform, which will deploy proprietary technology such as a silicon biophotonics dual-ring sensor and a consumable cartridge design for enhanced portability. It is currently developing a simple and cost-effective point-of-care molecular testing device.

Lion TCR

Lion TCR, a Singapore-based biotechnology company founded in 2015 by Dr Victor Li, is currently conducting research with A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) through a joint lab.

The company develops proprietary novel cancer immunotherapy products. Its redirected TCR (T cell receptor) therapy harnesses the patient’s own immune system to fight against viral infections and related cancers. They are extending their proprietary TCR therapy platform to target more viruses, particularly those prevalent in Asia such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

Just recently, it raised USD 20 million to fund its personalised T cell therapy clinical trials against liver cancer.


Founded in 2012 by Dr Steven Fang and Professor Hanry Yu, Invitrocue develops bio-analytic solutions including in vitro cell-based testing technologies and image analytics software for use in digital pathology. It has developed a unique 3D cell-based scaffolding technology that mimics human organ samples for use in the field of infectious diseases. Its technology originally originated in A*STAR.

In 2016, the company expanded its work in liver disease to the field of oncology. The technology enables patient-derived cancer cells (organoids) to be cultured in laboratories for testing against a panel of drugs to support clinical decision making for individual patients (personalised medicine).

ASLAN Pharmaceuticals

ASLAN Pharmaceuticals is a clinical-stage oncology-focused biopharmaceutical company developing novel therapeutics for global markets. ASLAN targets diseases that are both highly prevalent in Asia and orphan indications in the United States and Europe. Founded in 2010 by Dr Carl Firth, ASLAN’s portfolio is comprised of four product candidates which target validated growth pathways applied to new patient segments, novel immune checkpoints and novel cancer metabolic pathways.

ASLAN’s lead program, varlitinib, is a reversible small molecule pan-human epidermal growth factor receptor, or pan-HER, inhibitor that targets the human epidermal growth factor receptors HER1, HER2 and HER4. Varlitinib is currently being studied in a global pivotal clinical trial for biliary tract cancer. The company is also conducting a global phase 2/3 clinical trial of varlitinib for gastric cancer. ASLAN’s partners include Array BioPharma, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Almirall and CSL.

ASLAN is headquartered in Singapore and has offices in Taiwan and China.

Engine Biosciences

Based in Singapore & San Francisco, Engine Biosciences was founded in 2015, as a data-driven drug platform that uses AI and genomics to redesign drug discovery. It tests the effects of varying genetic expressions in diseased cells, to discover and develop better therapies for human diseases. Their therapies are aimed at global pharma companies which ultimately benefit millions of patients worldwide.

The company’s data-driven drug discovery platform which aims to accelerate and reduce costs of the R&D process for new medical therapies, is built on the pioneering work of Engine’s scientific founders including Mr Jeffrey Lu, Professor Timothy Lu, Ms Daphne Teo, Professor Hu Li, Assistant Professor Prashant Mali, with the help of Professor Jim Collins.

The technology has been applied across four areas. Cancer, neurodegeneration, autoimmune, and skin are just some of the diseases studied.

  • Finding new ways to apply old drugs (including both single and combination therapies)
  • Identifying biological factors in diseases (new target discovery)
  • Supporting unique treatments based on genetics (precision medicine)
  • Analysing proteins within a gene (pathway analysis)

A start-up generator, Antler announced its first cohort of founders in its programme which started on 2 July 2018. The selected 55 founders are from 23 countries, including Singapore, India, Indonesia, Estonia, Rwanda, Italy, France and Kazakhstan. Founders come from a range of industries and backgrounds, from applied chemistry, structural R&D, biomedical engineering to education tech, eCommerce, and marketing etc.

Antler was started in 2017 in Singapore by McKinsey, Google, Spotify, Harvard, MIT and Stanford alumni with the goal to turn the world’s best talent into great founders of great companies that can positively impact local and global economies. It selects the most passionate and aspiring entrepreneurs, helps them find the right co-founder and connects them to a mentor network of fitting business and academic subject matter experts worldwide. Funding is provided from day one.

Some ideas from the selected founders include developing alternatives to clean, sustainable energy, autonomous drone traffic management, and CRM solutions for real estate agencies.

Of the 55 founders, 21 of them are based in Singapore. A notable mention is Dr Nikita Agarwal, a biomedical professional in the research and healthcare business. She established the public-private partnership venture between Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, A*STAR and Bruker Biospin (where she focused on preclinical imaging technologies and biomed/biotech research). Through Antler, she hopes to develop entrepreneurial initiatives unique to Asia’s healthcare needs.

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