The new Oz pg. 2
R&D spending as a share of the economy (relative to gross domestic product, GDP) is expected to reach 3 percent by 2010 (the United States spent 2.57 percent of its GDP on R&D in 2006).
“Singapore is building and growing (its research enterprise), while the United States is flat or headed down,” Copeland says.
One component of the government’s vision is Biopolis—a complex of (so far) nine modern buildings interlinked by sky bridges. The buildings, with names like Centros, Genome, Matrix and Proteos, house the biomedical research institutes of the Agency of Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR)—the Singaporean equivalent to the intramural NIH campus—alongside research labs of pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
Built in two phases since 2003, Biopolis now boasts more than 2 million square feet of research space and amenities like food outlets, retail shops, and exercise and childcare facilities.
As of early 2007, Singapore had spent about $1.3 billion building and staffing Biopolis, which is part of a master plan for a 500-acre science and technology development that will include shops and homes.
“It’s beautiful infrastructure,” Copeland says. “It’s really quite amazing what they’ve done in such a short period of time.”
To jumpstart its ascendance as a biomedical research power, Singapore knew that it would need to import scientific talent. It has been wildly successful in its recruiting efforts. Along with Copeland and Jenkins, other prominent transplants include Edison Liu, M.D., former director of the NCI’s Division of Clinical Sciences; Jackie Ying, Ph.D., formerly of MIT; Alan Colman, Ph.D., who ran the Roslin Institute where Dolly the sheep was cloned; Edward Holmes, M.D., former dean of the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego; and Judith Swain, M.D., former dean for Translational Medicine at UCSD.
“They’re trying to do in 10 years what other places would take 25 years or more to do,” Copeland says. (San Diego’s transformation into a biomedical research hub took 40 years.)
“It’s a very international place,” he says. Among the 450 or so researchers in the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, “about 50 different nationalities (are) represented.”
Eighty to 90 percent of the leadership of the various A*STAR institutes is foreign born, Copeland estimates. But the government has programs in place to increase the number of Singaporeans in the leadership ranks and to move the overall mix of institute researchers closer to a 50-50 balance.
It is paying the way for about 1,000 students to earn Ph.D. degrees at foreign universities by 2015, with the requirement that they return to Biopolis for five years of postdoctoral training. The government hopes that half or more will stay on.