If only the BC government could be as aggressive as Singapore

Premier Gordon Campbell has publicly stated that he would like to see BC go from being 16th to 10th in terms of being a North American technology centre. That is so Canadian! We need to be more like Singapore (no, not by fining people for chewing gum, although that is seeming like not a bad idea these days…) by taking technology infrastructure and research as seriously as they do. This Fast Company article talks about their new $2B R&D effort in the Life Sciences.


Singapore is treating hundreds of scientists like free agents, promising first-class laboratories, top-notch equipment, and more than enough money to pursue work that’s not fundable, or is too controversial, back home. The government is investing more than $2 billion into research of all stripes, hoping to attract leaders in therapeutic cloning, drug discovery, cancer research, and other areas, bioscience all-stars who will in turn help build a local community that will bolster the economy.

So far, it’s working. A third of the almost 4,000 science PhDs here are foreigners, many with impressive résumés. Edison Liu, former director of the US National Cancer Institute’s Division of Clinical Sciences, moved in 2001 to head the Genome Institute of Singapore. Japanese cancer researcher Yoshiaki Ito brought his entire Kyoto University team to Singapore’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in 2002. Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Sydney Brenner splits his time between the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego and advising Singapore on how to attract more people like him.


Exhibit A in Singapore’s quest is Biopolis, a $300 million, 2 million-square-foot complex taking shape just outside of downtown. When complete by year’s end, Biopolis will include institutes specializing in bioinformatics, genomics, molecular biology, and nanotech – not to mention a shopping mall, a fitness center, restaurants, a day care center, lecture halls, a pub, and a light-rail system. […]

But it isn’t the food or the furniture that lured Martin Hibberd from his tenured post at London’s Imperial College to run the population genetics lab at the Genome Institute. It’s the equipment. Biopolis labs are lavishly outfitted with mass spectrometers, robotic microarrays, and a computing room that can house a petabyte of data storage. On a tour of his facilities, Hibberd proudly notes the $600,000 sequence variation analyzer purchased by the government. The system can sequence 4,000 DNA samples a day. Then there are the four $400,000 Applied Biosystems DNA analyzers. “At Imperial, it was hard to get funding for new technology, but here it’s available,” he says. “We’ve gone from nothing to this in only a short period of time.”


By working in the biotech community, foreign scientists will train an emerging generation of Singaporean researchers, who will one day rule Biopolis. At least that’s the plan. Getting to that point requires an overhaul of the educational system, which has always been based on rote memorization and absolute respect for authority. For many countries, this would take forever, but things happen more quickly here. “Singapore works as a company,” says Denmark-born Søren Bested, CTO of CordLife, which banks stem cells from the blood of umbilical cords. “When a decision is made to support life sciences, the government can provide billions in funding, build 2 million square feet of life science space in the middle of town, and change the curriculum of all schools to incorporate it.”