Singapore to boost R&D funding for digital tech, cell therapy manufacturing and food security

A mid-term review of the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE 2020) plan resulted in Singapore putting in more funds for the research and development (R&D) efforts in three key areas, namely digital technologies, cell therapy manufacturing and food security.

According to a press release by National Research Foundation (NRF) on Wednesday (27 March), these additional investments will boost the “good progress” of the S$19 billion initiative which was launched in early-2016.

Ever since the RIEC embarked on the journey in 2006 to enrich the nation’s science and technology capabilities and values; progress has been made in terms of international recognition and significant breakthroughs by local scientists, as well as foreign companies like Dyson with their advanced product development facilities.

RIEC’s chairman, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at a press conference after a RIEC meeting about the significance of research, innovation and enterprise to Singapore’s development, especially in practical and useful products including autonomous vehicles.

“We must and we will continue to invest in science, technology and innovation in a balanced, sustained and sustainable manner. (This is) in order to keep Singapore competitive and relevant globally, and seed exciting new opportunities for our future economy,” Mr Lee said.

In regards to the mid-term review of the RIE2020, Mr Lee affirmed that Singapore is on track with the digital revolution but they are also sharpening focus and fine-tuning adjustments to their plans.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Government will invest an additional S$500 million to strengthen digital technologies and automation expertise; out of which, S$200 million will be invested in the nation’s supercomputing capability and network speed and ability.

Meanwhile, about S$41 million will be given to the National Robotics Programme to deploy more robotics technology while the rest of the funds would be used to expand existing programmes like Al Singapore and foster new capabilities in digital trust, the social science of digital technologies, and computational law.

Singapore will also be ploughing in S$80 million to develop a commercially scalable platform and improved technology to assess the quality of cells manufactured in the field of cell therapy, whereby intact living cells injected into patients help them to fight cancer or restore tissue or organ function.

“When you look at the future, it’s beyond what we currently manufacture today. Small molecules, biologics and cell therapy will be part of the future and we want to anchor those investments here in Singapore,” said Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) biomedical research council.

Besides that, some S$144 million from the RIE2020 plan will also be allocated for R&D work in sustainable urban food production, future food, as well as food safety science and innovation to meet the newly announced target of producing 30 per cent of the nation’s nutritional needs by 2030. Two Centres of Innovation focusing on aquaculture and energy are due to be opened in Temasek Polytechnic and the Nanyang Technological University by June and April, respectively.

Mr Lee also brought up the issue of the Government to achieve more progress in RIE investments from partnerships between the public and private sector. Currently, Singapore spends about 1 per cent of its gross domestic product on RIE efforts, while the private sector spends between 1.2 and 1.4 per cent, with an increase due to economic growth.

NRF chief executive Low Teck Seng said that there is still a need for more companies to incorporate R&D into their operations. He also highlighted the importance of continuous stock-take in science and technology as part of their ambition to grow the nation’s economy and build solutions to address national challenges.

Prof Low elaborated on NRF’s role in this area, stating, “The industry is not spending rapidly enough so we will need to keep pushing our tech consortia idea and others to see to get them more involved. In terms of tech deployment and diffusion, can we be more effective? I think we can.”

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