HBS 4: Commercialisation Challenges in Biomedical Industries in Asia

HBS 4: Commercialisation Challenges in Biomedical Industries in Asia

The fourth public talk in the Health, Business and Society series was held on 7th August at ESSEC Asia-Pacific. Focusing on “Commercialisation Challenges in Biomedical Industries in Asia”, the public talk gathered experts from academia as well as the public and private sectors to share their views on the topic.

The panelists for the event were Dr. David Epstein, Associate Dean of Research, Director of the Centre for Technology & Development (CTeD) and Associate Professor in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, Mr. Ng Choon Peng, Senior Director, Pharma & Biologics Cluster in BMRC, A*STAR, and Mr. Jeff Weisel, Managing Director of Celadon Health Ventures. The session was moderated by Dr. Allen Lai, Director of the Institute for Health Economics & Management Asia-Pacific, ESSEC Business School.

The session began with a presentation by Mr. Ng Choon Peng, who spoke about how Singapore has evolved from a labour intensive to a knowledge and innovation-based economy today. He highlighted the increasing R&D expenditures in Singapore. Mr. Ng spoke about the story of Singapore’s research and development ecosystem, moving from scientific foundation to economic returns. He introduced A*STAR, specifically speaking about Exploit Technologies Private Limited (ETPL), the technology transfer arm in A*STAR, as well as the role of ETPL in the A*STAR ecosystem in handling areas such as technology disclosures and patents. Mr. Ng added that the role of ETPL is to protect, incubate and transfer technology. He shared the challenges in bio-manufacturing and bio-processing in the biometrix, including:

  • Increasing manufacturing and capital costs
  • Higher development costs in the technological breakthrough
  • More stringent regulatory requirements, such as waste management in the purification process
  • Increasing quality of product


Mr. Ng also shared his experience of working in a start-up, Q*, that he is currently involved in, which focuses on the area of biologics and downstream bio-processing. Due to challenges in training and staffing professionals who were well-equipped to work in the industry, Mr. Ng added that there is a need for more entrepreneurs to step up to these roles. To conclude his presentation, Mr. Ng added that funding and the maturity of the ecosystem remain as key challenges. 

Mr. Jeff Weisel raised a question about patient access and making these solutions accessible to patients. In response, Mr. Ng replied that the team has adopted a patient-centric approach, and their aim lies in seeing how the team can impact the end customer, which in many cases, is the patient. 

Following this, Dr. David Epstein spoke about the increasing biomedical R&D spending in Asia at a public sector level, with greater commitment from the public sector to invest in research. He addressed the question of how to capitalize on the opportunities brought by this increased commitment from the public sector. He shared several goals and challenges faced by the industry, and proposed solutions to these challenges, including:




Building a sustainable biomedical ecosystem in Singapore

The need for a deeper talent pool with technical and managerial know-how

Identify, nurture and develop scientists, clinicians and engineers with the aptitude and desire to innovate

Building a sustainable biomedical ecosystem in Singapore

Enhance infrastructure for growth of biomedical industry

Sustained investment via public private partnerships to develop early-stage biomedical ventures

Public private partnerships will provide a soft landing while building the biotechnology infrastructure

Demonstrate effectiveness of innovative models that launch successful biomedical companies and are sustainable in a local and global context

Developing strategic know-how for innovation that succeeds because of a global context

Provide direct access to experienced entrepreneurs, investors and leaders

Ensure that institutions have a link to global leaders and executives involved in driving innovation

Demonstrate effectiveness of innovative models that launch successful biomedical companies and are sustainable in a local and global context

Develop infrastructure for growth of biomedical industry

Capital to support new venture creation models: Involving stakeholders who will invest in projects from the beginning of the incubation process

Develop innovative technologies that bridge basic to clinical research

Build intellectual property through innovations

Develop a deeper understanding of specific clinical problems that can be addressed through basic research

Consider novel venture creation models, with an emphasis on involving those with capital

Develop innovative technologies that bridge basic to clinical research

Enhancing the economic value of intellectual property

Develop financial models and benchmarking approaches that guide success

Ensure constant dialogue about how to increase the value of IP

Sell more through involving more people

Long term investment, commercial development and asset sale

Dr. Epstein also spoke about what was necessary for biotechnology to thrive, including:

  • Patents/know-how/vision
  • Skilled professionals
  • Capital and equity
  • Favourable regulatory and tax framework

He spoke about what he does at the Duke NUS Center for Technology and Development (CTeD), which aims to nurture, develop and commercialise. According to Dr. Epstein, the CTeD facilitates knowledge transfer through a Learning-by-Doing Model.

The last presentation was delivered by Mr. Jeff Weisel, who shared several key questions related to the commercialisation process for Founders and CEOs, including:

  • How will the product, solution or technology reach the maximum number of people who need it?
  • How will profit be earned? With regard to the value proposition, he proposed the following questions:
  • Does our product, solution or technology address unmet needs for stakeholders such as payers, patients, physicians and providers?

With regard to markets, he encouraged founders and CEOs to consider the following questions:

  • Which markets do you want to commercialise in, and how will it be done?
    - Global, regional or local?
    - Developed or emerging markets?
    - Reimbursed or out of pocket?
    - Mass or niche?

He also shared several questions related to outcomes, mostly for CEOs and owners to consider before they begin the process of commercialisation:

  • What kind of outcome do they want to have?
    - Does the CEO want to maintain control of the company? o Do they want to continue driving decisions in the company
    - Do they want to be the public face of the company?
    - Do they want to continue to invent things?
    - Are they motivated to go out and do it again? (With respect to Serial Entrepreneurs)
    - What is their appetite for risk?

Mr. Weisel emphasised that a start-up is really about a group of passionate people who want to get something done.

Many interesting questions were raised during the Question & Answer session, including one on “How would you know if a VC might have the capability to take your start up forward?” In response to this question, Mr. Weisel added that you would need to know the owner’s objectives, and what you as a company really want. Mr. Ng explained that it would be important for owners to be clear of their motivation as well as the landscape, including what exactly they needed the money for and how much they would need. Mr. Ng emphasised that many start-ups fail because of cash flow problems, and urged budding entrepreneurs to be clear of their cash flow. 

The session was an insightful one, bringing insights from leaders in the biomedical industries in Asia.

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