A recent interview with Daphne Teo, founder and CEO of NSG Ventures and NSG BioLabs, sheds light on the current trends and the promising future of biotech in Southeast Asia, particularly in Singapore.
During a visit to NSG BioLabs’ facility, Teo explains to e27 the challenges faced by biotech companies in Singapore today.
When it comes to funding, for example, she states that the industry is currently facing a downturn, as with most verticals in the tech industry. But this trend works in a cycle, and there is definitely an upturn; investors are still active but are becoming more discerning in their choices.
“People say that there is a [funding] drought in Singapore. That is not really a drought, though, as there are people who are still investing. It is just that they are more picky about what kind of investment, team, and company they want to invest in.”
Beyond funding, biotech companies face challenges in talent acquisition and infrastructure. Teo highlights the scarcity of scientists globally and the lack of suitable laboratory spaces. “Scientists are generally hard to find in many countries … Regarding infrastructure, there was really no space for any biotech to start getting. They have to build their own or create makeshift office space, which is not ideal because of contamination issues.”
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Investing in biotech differs significantly from other tech verticals, as it focuses more on the quality of innovation rather than immediate scalability. Teo explains that investors seek groundbreaking technologies, especially those addressing critical medical needs. “Because, in the end, it is about how many patients they are going to save.”
NSG BioLabs and NSG Ventures play a pivotal role in supporting biotech companies and entrepreneurs in navigating these challenges.
Situated in Biopolis, Singapore’s biomedical research hub, NSG BioLabs offers certified BSL-2 wet lab and office coworking spaces, providing state-of-the-art equipment and turnkey operations across 35,000 sq ft.
Teo underscores the importance of creating an ecosystem that supports life sciences companies at every stage, from research to breakthrough innovations.
The distinction between BSL-1 and BSL-2 labs further emphasises NSG BioLabs’ commitment to safety and efficiency. BSL-2 labs allow the handling of pathogenic microorganisms, which is crucial for biotech companies in the research phase or pre-clinical trials.
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Launched in 2019, the coworking space also serves as a hub for contract research organisations (CROs), streamlining processes and reducing costs for biotech companies. Teo notes, “Most coworking spaces will have startups or investors by the same facility; we actually have the CROs right here, side-by-side with the biotech companies. And that’s actually very valuable.”
Success stories from NSG BioLabs highlight the significance of partnerships with big pharma companies. Teo explains how biotech companies, adept at rapid research, can collaborate with big pharma for clinical trials, a traditionally slow and capital-intensive process for large pharmaceutical companies.
Some examples of success stories from NSG BioLabs include Engine BioScience (which has recently secured a US$43 million funding round), ImmunoScape (which is studying how T cells of the immune system respond to fight COVID-19), and Acumen Diagnostics (which is behind the Singapore-made PCR kits that are able to detect both Omicron and Delta variants of COVID-19 viruses).
Looking ahead to 2024, NSG BioLabs plans to expand further and add more companies to its portfolio. Teo attributes their success as the “partner in the infrastructure of choice” to their understanding of the biotech landscape.
“We are biotech founders ourselves, we know what the process is like, how scientists want to work. We’re not like contractors who just kind of build it. We basically design a perfect lab for them to work, do their work processes.”
Images Credit: NSG BioLabs
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