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A*STAR Chairman's 2019 New Year Message

New Year Message by Chairman A*STAR

Dear Colleagues,

The Trump-Kim Summit on June 12th put Singapore on the world map.  How this will lead to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula remains to be seen.  The comic reinforcement to the spotlight on Singapore came soon after with the release of “Crazy Rich Asians”.  

Globally, relations between the world’s major powers are shifting and the direction in which the world might converge is unclear.  The global rules-based international order and trading system is under threat.  There is a trade war and a contest for technological supremacy between the US and China.  The Asian region continues to be at the forefront of the global economy, accounting for more than 60 per cent of world growth and projected to grow at 5.6 per cent in 2018 and 5.4 per cent in 2019. However, the global economy is going to start in 2019 slightly more fragile than in 2018.

These are indeed challenging and interesting times.

In Singapore, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat has been chosen to lead the 4G team of the People’s Action Party with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing as his deputy. Prime Minster Lee also said that he would announce changes to the Cabinet after Budget 2019.  Domestically, the Singapore economy is expected to grow by 3 to 3.5 per cent in 2018 and shares a weaker outlook for next year as the global economy.

The Future Economy Council (FEC) has its work cut out to oversee the implementation of economic strategies for Singapore over the next decade. Few countries have the bandwidth to plan so extensively for the future and we must make the best of it by leveraging on our strong fundamentals. We must sustain Singapore’s growth by maximising limited resources through greater productivity and innovation and working hard on areas of future growth where we have competitive advantage. Our goal is to be a leading global city of enterprise and talent, a vibrant nation of innovation and opportunity so that we continue to attract investments, and make further progress in nurturing a deeper base of global Singapore enterprises. A*STAR is working closely with many enterprises and other public sector agencies to support and contribute to the economic priorities articulated by the respective FEC Clusters. Moving forward, RIE initiatives will be further aligned with the FEC priorities.

Going into the third year of RIE2020, A*STAR has sustained the momentum of its R&D efforts and continues to deliver on our commitments. This year, we embarked on the RIE2020 Mid-term Review (MTR) to take stock of where we are and how we can further sharpen our strategies in RIE 2020 to deliver even more for Singapore and well beyond our commitments.  At the domain level, the review showed that clear economic mission and strong ops-tech integration have delivered positive business and economic outcomes in both the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) and Health and Biomedical Sciences (HBMS) domains.  The cross-domains national level review is now being finalised and details of this will become clear when the RIE Council chaired by the Prime Minister convenes early next year. 

In the AME domain, our strategies continue to contribute to the desired outcomes of the manufacturing ITMs. We continue to be the partner of choice for MNCs and have expanded our partnerships with the likes of Rolls-Royce through the Smart Manufacturing Joint Laboratory and the Computational Engineering Lab. We are collaborating with industry to transfer Future of (FoM) technologies to new verticals such as the Pharmbio and Fast Moving Consumer Goods sectors. We continue to work closely with our LLEs such as Singapore Airlines, ST Engineering, Singtel and DBS, to strengthen their core businesses and tap on opportunities in new business areas through innovation. Through various PPP platforms and initiatives under the FoM framework, we are making good progress in helping our SMEs improve both their absorptive capacity and capabilities in innovation.  Beyond manufacturing, A*STAR has also been supporting other industries such as in the Trade and Connectivity Cluster and addressing national needs through supporting the SDE Domain’s effort to build a Smart Nation.

In the HBMS domain, we are seeing a nascent but fast growing and dynamic biotech ecosystem.  From 2010 to 2017, over 60 biotechs were incorporated in Singapore, three times that of the preceding decade (2000-2009). Just within the same period, their contribution to R&D expenditure increased by nearly ninefold, from $21 million to $186 million.  We have also made strides in creating new areas of growth such as seeding a new Food, Nutrition and Consumer Care (FNCC) innovation cluster in Singapore. Global leaders in food ingredient manufacturing like Danone, Ferrero, Kellogg, Mondelēz and Roquette have all set up their R&D Centres in Singapore. This growth has catalysed other supporting industry clusters and a number of local SMEs have now become part of the FNCC innovation or manufacturing value chain. Building on existing strengths and capabilities, we are working with other public sector agencies to develop the agri-food sector to increase food security, achieve economic value capture and pioneer a future-ready food safety system to address both national and economic needs.

Our industry footprint has also grown. In FY2017, we worked on over 2,100 industry projects, a 20 per cent increase from FY2016. Of these industry projects, one third remained with local enterprises. At the same time, three-quarters of over 260 A*STAR licenses were taken up by local enterprises, compared to about 60 per cent of 235 the year before.  A*STAR also launched its biggest spin-off to date.  Valued at US$320 million, the Advanced Micro Foundry (AMF), is a result of patient investments in silicon photonics since the early 2000s.

The growing stature of Singapore’s research efforts is also reflected in our performance in global innovation reports. The Global Innovation Index 2018 ranked Singapore first in the Asia and Oceania regions and fifth globally, up from seventh place in 2017. The Bloomberg Innovation Index 2018 placed Singapore as the third most innovative economy in the world, up from sixth place in 2017, and second in the Asia Pacific region, behind South Korea.

All these achievements are only possible with the hard work and commitment of each and every one of you in A*STAR, both the scientists and the corporate staff, and also our partners in the wider community.  Our scientists continue to be recognized for their contribution to science. Prof Patrick Cozzone (SBIC), Prof Patrick Tan (DED BMRC), Prof Ng Huck Hui (ED A*GA, GIS),  Prof Jackie Ying  (Snr Fellow, A*STAR), Prof Judith Swain (Snr Fellow, A*STAR), Dr Florent Ginhoux (SIgN), Dr Wan Yue (GIS), Dr Anjan Soumyanarayanan (IMRE), Dr Tan Yen Nee (IMRE), and Ng Shu Feng (NSS BS-PhD scholar) are among those who won prestigious scientific awards. The A*STAR family also welcomed a new member Dr Damian O’Connell who took over as the new CEO of ETC, EBC and D3. We also want to thank Dr Alex Matter who has stepped down from his role as CEO of ETC/D3 and Dr Danny Soon who has likewise stepped down as the Acting CEO of EBC.

2019 marks the bicentennial of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in Singapore.  This is a time for us to reflect on our rich history and journey stretching well beyond the bicentennial. In our own way, it is also timely for A*STAR to deliberate on where we, as an organisation, want to be at the end of RIE2020 and at the start of the new tranche, RIE2025.  What is clear is that we must continue to work together to deliver on our mission and foster an environment where the most innovative and committed scientists and corporate staff want to be.  I wish all of you a fruitful and successful 2019.  Happy New Year!


Lim Chuan Poh
31 December 2018

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