SINGAPORE is on the fast track to becoming a leader in the biomedical sciences.

The establishment in 2000 of Biopolis, a cutting-edge research and development centre in this field, had yielded significant benefits, said Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang yesterday.

He was speaking at the opening of Chugai Pharmabody Research, Singapore's first corporate laboratory in antibody engineering.

'We are privileged that Chugai has chosen Singapore as the location to set up (its) new facility.'

Antibodies are part of the body's immune system. They identify and neutralise threats to health such as viruses and bacteria.

The facility, costing an initial investment of $1.5million, has been set up by Japan's Chugai Pharmaceutical. It will focus on the research and development (R&D) of new antibody drugs.

Tokyo-based Chugai is 59 per cent owned by Swiss health-care giant Roche. It said it will invest $200 million in Singapore on antibody research over the next five years.

The Singapore facility, located at the Biopolis, will be Chugai's second satellite research institute, following PharmaLogicals Research, which was established in 2002 as a joint venture.

Mr Lim said that from 2000 to 2010, Singapore's biomedical manufacturing output increased from $6 billion to $23.3 billion.

'Even as Singapore has done reasonably well on these fronts, we are committed to doing more to grow this industry. We are in this for the long term,' he said.

He added that between 2011 and 2015, the Government will invest $3.7 billion in biomedical sciences research, a 12 per cent increase from the preceding five years.

He cited as Singapore's key strengths its partnerships with local research institutes, access to a diverse pool of research talent and its standing as a base for business expansion into regional markets.

'Beyond R&D, Singapore has established a strong track record for manufacturing high-quality products for global markets...

'We are seeing a growing number of biomedical sciences companies establishing their strategic home bases in Singapore to drive business expansion.'

Chugai chairman and chief executive Osamu Nagayama said that the creation of the new facility in Singapore bore testament to the ideal research environment here.

He added that the strategy of nurturing both home-grown talent and attracting global talent forms the basis of Singapore's reputation as a leading global R&D centre.

'We are immensely excited by the potential here at (the new facility) in Singapore to achieve breakthroughs in the very near future... that could have a wide-ranging impact on the improvement of health care around the globe.'

Professor Sir David Lane, chief scientist of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, will take up the role of chairman of the board of Chugai Pharmabody Research.

Asked by reporters why he decided to take up the post, he said: 'It is a very critical development for Singapore, bringing not just manufacturing but also high-end research... the technology is also fantastic... I'm very excited about it.'

When asked if he believed that Singapore had developed a competitive advantage in pharma, Professor Lane said: 'I think Singapore's competing now, and we'll have to be very careful not to lose the edge... everything that we put into place here is important.

'If you don't have a terrific scientific atmosphere, if you can't attract the best scientists from all over the world, if you can't encourage the young people, it'll go away. We have to be very careful to maintain what we have.'