Nigerian National Institutes of Biomedicine (NIB) As a Strategic Agency and Policy Instrument to Boost the National Bioeconomy
[How to fund and maintain a Nigerian equivalent of US National Institutes of Health (NIH). A contribution to science and technology R&D policy formulation and implementation in Nigeria by Nigerian Diaspora Biomedical Scientists. Transmitted by Prof Joseph U. Igietseme (image above]
“I think we also have to make the case, particularly at this time, that medical research is one of the best stimuli of the economy that there is………. with each dollar of an NIH grant providing more than two dollars of benefit to the economy.” Former NIH Director, Dr. Francis S. Collins.
“Each euro invested under Horizon 2020 is expected to trigger EUR 10 of added value in the different bioeconomy sectors by 2025.” Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science
1. Significance – Bioeconomy and the National Economy: Trends in the evolving global economy indicate that any developing country like Nigeria aspiring to join the ranks of the world’s leading industrialized countries must build a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy. Science and technology research and development [R&D] and innovation in the biosciences, resulting from a convergence of biological sciences with engineering and other sciences—including physics, chemistry, and computer sciences— offers tremendous applications in biomedical science and biotechnology that drive a robust economic enterprise called bioeconomy. So bioeconomy constitutes a nation’s economic activities powered by translational and applied R&D and innovation in the biosciences.
Bioeconomy has been a key component of the national economies of industrialized nations; however, both industrialized countries and several emerging economies have prioritized the sector for increasing Government’s investment and intensive promotion using common policies and policy instruments. This is because: first, bioeconomy promotes strong intellectual capital creation as a basis for developing knowledge-intensive companies and generating high–value-added jobs in a nation. Second, bioeconomy is a hotbed for innovation and nations now compete on the international arena on the basis of innovation outputs. Third, the bioeconomy sector has enormous potential for rapid growth and job creation due to the vast diversity and broad affordability range of its products and services for our daily living and the numerous societal benefits; these include products and services that: promote healthier lives and longevity of citizens; provide avenues for new sources of bioenergy; and help in forging solutions to environmental challenges. Also, bioscience R&D induces transformation in manufacturing and management processes; stimulates new scientific discoveries, new products, new markets, and new high-skilled jobs that sustain rapid economic growth. Importantly, it greatly increases the productivity and scope of the agricultural sector while generating new industries and occupational opportunities. In fact, the benefits of bioeconomy investments are seen in virtually every sector of the economy.
Perhaps the economy boosting impact bioscience R&D is underscored in the following US and European statements supporting Govt’s investment in bioeconomy drivers: According to the US, science funding helps economy – A day after President Obama laid out his plan to stimulate jobs, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made the case that funding biomedical research reverberates beyond the laboratory — stimulating innovation and also having a significant economic impact, with each dollar of an NIH grant providing more than two dollars of benefit to the economy. [The Boston Globe. 09/09/2011]. And according to European Union (EU) Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn, with the recent investment of EUR 4.7 billion for research and innovation to further new areas of opportunities in the bioeconomy by the EU Commission, under Horizon 2020’s ‘Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe’, each euro invested is expected to trigger EUR 10 of added value in the different bioeconomy sectors by 2025. Similar bold initiatives have made the EU bioeconomy to be worth EUR 2 trillion and responsible for 22 million jobs by 2013, according to the EU’s Research, Innovation and Science agency. [Bioeconomy: the new revolution. By Sebastian Moffett. HORIZON: The EU Research & Innovation Magazine. 18 March 2013]. Furthermore, the capital investment required for a significant and profitable bioeconomy enterprise could be relatively moderate; and there is a worldwide ready availability of the scientific and technological skills, resources and expertise needed in bioscience R&D activities. Therefore, a deliberate Govt’s focus on the policies, instruments and tools that drive a robust bioeconomy is a rational path to national sufficiency, innovation, economic expansion and prosperity in contemporary times.
Lastly, Govt’s investment and involvement in bioeconomy activities, promotion and support have the same rational basis as the socioeconomic reasons for Govt’s investment in R&D in general. The fact is that Govt exists at least partly to judiciously and prudently utilize public resources to proactively promote the socioeconomic and cultural activities that ensure the bread and butter, wellbeing, education, safety and security of citizens and advance society progressively. ‘It’s the food on our plates, the water from our taps, the newspaper in our hands, and, more and more, it will be the fuel in our cars and the source of power for our workplaces and homes,’ EU Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn told ‘Bioeconomy in the EU’, a conference in Dublin in 2013. The importance and urgency to provide these services and products require faster actions in growing the bioeconomy sector than can happen through private industry and market forces. This has prompted governments to kick-start and sustain the process in essentially all countries with active and profitable bioeconomies.
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s bioeconomy is under-developed, under-invested, lacks promotion, and therefore contributes little to the national economy, unlike essentially all industrialized nations and several emerging economies. The poor status of Nigeria’s bioeconomy reflects the meager state of the national R&D enterprise in the public, academic and corporate sectors, which lacks the capacity to support a meaningful national innovation and profitable knowledge-based economy. In the academia, the overall research capacity of Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions, including laboratory facilities, technological infrastructures, and research administration, funding and productivity is placed at less than 25%; this spells a dismal state and a crisis in academic research in Nigeria and a dim prospect for significant international recognition/rating of academic scholarship of Nigerian universities; thus, the contribution of academic research to national innovation and corporate R&D enterprises is essentially miniscule! Besides, the absence of significant public sector R&D effort to steer a national biosciences R&D initiative, and the rudimentary state of corporate R&D innovation enterprises, implies that the prospects for a knowledge- and innovation-driven economy are currently dim in Nigeria. Consequently, the national biosciences R&D enterprise lacks the momentum of global trends that drive a robust bioeconomy; and with a very weak bioeconomy, the Nigerian economy will continue to be at great risk! The negative impact of this situation on the national human [manpower/workforce] and intellectual capital development, national innovation, commercial R&D and national economy are devastating for the nation’s global competitiveness in contemporary knowledge-based economies!
2. Policy Instruments and Strategies used by Global Best Practices to Bolster Bioeconomy. Global best practices in bioeconomy enterprise development indicate that the keys to success are in the strategic application of Government’s policy instruments to establish the fundamental building blocks of bioeconomy activities; specifically, these are the institutional drivers and agencies that focus on building up their the core bioscience research capabilities as well as the human, intellectual, and industrial capitals [see: Staffas, L, Gustavsson, M, McCormick, K. Strategies and Policies for the Bioeconomy and Bio-Based Economy: An Analysis of Official National Approaches. Sustainability 2013, 5, 2751-2769]. Foremost among the policy instruments are those that strengthen and sustain the nation’s public, academic and corporate capabilities in basic, translational and applied bioscience research to facilitate moving scientific discoveries from the bench to the bedside or production factory. Specifically, bioeconomy success is attributable to: (a) the establishment of key public-sector research institutes (such as the United States’ National Institutes of Health (US NIH); and its equivalent elsewhere) that support both basic and mission-oriented R&D at public and academic institutions; (b) development an educated and skilled workforce; and (c) a supportive business and regulatory environment. Among the current global leaders and heavy hitters in bioeconomy, USA, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Finland, Russia, China, Brazil, Malaysia, India and Singapore, there is a commonality in the policies, instruments and strategies that underlie the success in bioscience R&D and innovation. The key policy instruments used by only USA, China and Singapore are highlighted below [Appendix 1].
3. Need for the Establishment of Core Scientific Bioscience Research Capabilities in Nigeria: The recognition of the significance of biotechnology to national economic growth led Nigeria to establish the National Biotechnology Development Agency [NABDA] IN 2001. This was followed by the establishment of the National Economic and Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS) in 2003 and the implementation of other ancillary structural and systemic adjustments in the financial and business sectors aimed at pushing the frontiers of economic development in several areas and diversify the economy from the predominantly single oil revenue source, boost local production, improve export and international competitiveness, and incentivize the private sector; thus, the government approved a $5 billion science endowment fund for research into biotechnology, agriculture and the physical sciences in 2006. Unfortunately, while it may be argued that it is relatively too early to judge, despite the above positive steps, the improvements seen in productivity and direct foreign investments (DFIs) in the last ten years have been limited to the oil sector. The economy remains essentially undiversified and excessively dependent on oil, with a dominance of primary crude production and little or no manufacturing or downstream activities. In fact, current productivity and manufacturing in the oil sector responsible for over 90% of the external reserves contributes only 15% to the GDP, which is bad news for the bioeconomy. The continued lag of the bioeconomy would indicate that the current activities in the biotechnology sector need improvements because they are inadequate to drive the bioeconomy, or there are other key bioeconomy drivers that are missing. The authors believe both outlooks have merits; therefore, while NABDA continues on its feet for its mission, Nigeria should also commit to developing the blueprints for other key synergistic national platforms to drive the national bioeconomy.
Since all models of global bioeconomy success have the US NIH-like biomedical R&D promoting and supporting agency as a key policy instrument that ensured success, Nigeria should seriously explore that missing element in her bioeconomy boost aspirations. Such a platform will be involved in: (a) setting biomedical R&D priorities and orientation; (b) production of essential biomedical R&D resources; (c) biomedical knowledge mining and management; and (d) sustaining the funding supports for biomedical R&D activities in the academia, public research institutes and industry. In this respect, a national commitment is required for the following three specific biosciences R&D objectives:
a. Govt’s commitment to the development of a policy instrument that will establish the equivalent of the United States of America’s National Institutes of Health [US NIH] agency [possibly to be called National Institutes of Biomedicine, NIB] for biomedical R&D promotion, prioritization, and support, as a key additional national bioscience R&D support and promotion platform. The combined objectives of NABDA and NIB will provide a momentous synergy to boost national bioscience R&D, through: (i) stable funding of well-defined and targeted bioscience R&D activities at academic and public research settings; (ii) the effective and efficient promotion of biomedical and biotechnology knowledge management; and (iii) fostering academia/public and corporate bioscience R&D cooperation and collaboration in a deliberate bid to close ranks for rapid achievement of common national biomedicine R&D goals.
Also, a Nigerian NIB may provide a hub for a National Biomedical knowledge and Resource Management (NBRM) platform for rapid set up and development of collaborative international biomedical operations in response to impending, epidemic or endemic infectious or non-infectious serious diseases in the nation [and continental sub-region as well]. An NBRM platform at NIB will operate as a Center or Foundation in charge of fostering and building international collaborations between local and foreign biomedical experts in specific biomedical fields posing serious challenges to the nation [in public/private healthcare settings, academia or industry] in order to boost national Biomedical activities in the fields; foster capacity-building, acquisition of expertise, skills and training from global best practices in the fields; and achieve national preparedness in clinical diagnostics, surveillance/detection, prevention, control and applied R&D in disease handling. The recent Ebola disease epidemic in West Africa that affected Nigeria would illustrate the instances when Biomedical health emergencies require rapid identification of competent laboratories overseas to work with and/or train our biomedical practitioners, clinicians and scientists on diagnostics, clinical practices, drug trials, research and how to build up local/national capacity in the field for a more effective disease control. Such timely collaboration building will lead to a better handle, control or management of the disease or its cause from the local perspective including exploring local solutions, build up local skills, facilities, capacities and expertise. The approach applies to endemic diseases that require both clinical and applied biomedical research to address for ultimate elimination from our communities or regions.
b. Govt’s commitment to fast-tracking the execution and actualization of the national biosciences R&D goals, objectives and vision, especially empowering biosciences R&D institutions, agencies and the academia with resources, funding and the necessary skills-, expertise- and manpower-development training, and challenging them to deliver on productivity and innovation. Specifically, Govt’s commitment is needed for empowering and making Nigeria’s NIB and NABDA the vital resource centers for supporting and promoting academic, public and corporate bioscience R&D activities through facilitating deliberate and targeted product and service development, setting of bioscience research priorities and direction, sourcing vital resources and reagents, and procurement of bioscience R&D funding from internal and international public and private agencies and foundations.
c. Govt’s empowerment of the relevant quality control, ethics, standards and safety agencies to monitor and ensure the contemporaneousness and implementation of the national biosciences R&D policies consistent with global best practices and the national aspirations and mission.
This communication aims to kindle a national movement to build a momentum toward a concerted effort to deliberately set national goals backed by the relevant policies and policy instruments for a robust and profitable bioeconomy enterprise. In addition, complementary and relevant policies, instruments and practices for achieving the goals have been recommended. The involvement and cooperation of certain other agencies and stakeholders will be required to develop the details, nuts and bolts of the recommended policies, including strategies to tap into international agencies and foundations, as well as able and willing diaspora and foreign scientists and experts. The Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), the Nigerian Institute for Pharmaceutical Research (NIPR), the Nigerian Institute for Veterinary Research (NVRI), the National Biotechnology Development Agency [NABDA], and the National Academy of Science (NAS) are among other agencies and stakeholders to be engaged for consultations, organizational realignment, cooperation, infrastructures and capacity building toward a Nigerian NIB. It is anticipated that the planning and implementation of a functional policy instrument containing a National Institutes of Biomedicine will take two to three years.
4. Highlights of feasibility outlooks and funding sources for the establishment and sustenance of a National Institutes of Biomedicine (NIB).
The significance and urgency to establish an active NIH-like agency in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially Nigeria is enormous. The Nigerian National Institutes of Biomedicine (NIB) will be a key public-sector research agency with several institutes that actively engage in funding, supporting and promoting intramural and extramural basic and mission-oriented biomedical R&D initiatives aimed at developing a spectrum of biomedical R&D capabilities, sustain biomedical R&D activities and funding at academic and public institutions, coordinate and set biomedical research priorities, standards and orientation for a booming national biomedical R&D enterprise. Global best practices in bioeconomy success have shown that the establishment of a US NIH-like agency remains a key element in the success of biomedical R&D promotion to accelerate the growth of the national bioeconomy. The recent success in bioeconomy in China, Singapore and India in the last two decades would also attest to the importance of an NIH-like agency in national bioeconomy promotion, just as it has supported the growth and sustenance of the bioeconomies of essentially all the industrialized countries over the years. So for the sources of funding for establishment of the agency and how to sustain the R&D activities to drive the bioeconomy, the valuable lessons and guidelines from the historical and contemporary success stories in bioeconomy enterprise development would suggest the following strategies:
a. Sustained R&D investment policy. Foremost among the keys for success is committed funding and support programs in a sustained government commitment to an R&D investment policy, such that the gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) is at least 2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) out of which at least 30% is earmarked for the biosciences R&D (i.e., biomedical science and biotechnology). Nigeria, presently the biggest economy in Africa, should work toward raising her R&D investment to 2% of GDP and similarly commit approximately 40% of the R&D funds to investment in the bioeconomy. This R&D investment-friendly climate provides a fertile ground for a viable NIB objective and the anticipated bioeconomy boost. And the action will mimic the successful Singapore’s biomedicine model based on committing at least2% of GDP to R&D and earmarking 40% of the R&D budget to bioeconomy investment.
b. Passing a Nigerian Bioscience R&D and Innovation Act Bill. The need for a Nigerian NIB is a national bioscience R&D, innovation, economic and security imperative. A legislative approval may be required for its establishment unless it is presented as a revised form of an existing agency(s), such as upgrading the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) or other bodies, in order to accelerate its debut.
Therefore, one ready source of funding for the establishment and operations of NIB is a Nigerian equivalent of the US American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -2009 [US ARRA 2009]. To be called the Nigerian R&D and Innovation Act [NRDIA] bill, it will provide approximately USD$500 million over 3 years as the seed grants and funds for starting the NIB agency. These funds will target research infrastructural and capacity building in public, academic and corporate settings to jumpstart Nigeria’s bioscience R&D sector and bioeconomy investment. When complemented with a sustained 2% R&D investment policy, and earmarking 40% of the R&D budget to bioeconomy investment, the national R&D enterprise will muster the capacity to support the momentum of global trends that drive the economic and other benefits of a bioeconomy.
(iii) Active Solicitation for Assistance from International Funding Agencies/Foundations. A Nigerian NIB initiative will likely attract support and funding from several international sources [e.g., The Welcome Foundation; the Fogarty Foundation; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Dangote Foundation; et cetera] for various obvious reasons. Among the major reasons are:
First, the establishment of a Nigerian NIB will make the country a regional hub for disease research and prevention because Nigeria as a regional leader in several socioeconomic and political activities in Africa, such an agency will ensure a rapid response to public health and disease research and prevention, providing a hub for regional integration and coordination of biomedical health and environmental research issues. Moreover, such an institute will provide a base for continuous research on endemic diseases and a reliable, scalable research center for any epidemic disease.
Second, in human capital, skilled manpower, talents, and expertise, the international community is aware that Nigeria has considerable skilled manpower as Biomedical scientists in the Diaspora to work with their local counterparts in the academia, public R&D policy agencies and the industry on the blueprints to jumpstart and sustain biomedical R&D in various fields if an enabling environment such as a policy instrument like NIB is moved forward for implementation. For example, the Nigerian National Universities Commission [NUC] in collaboration with active Nigerian biomedical scientists in the Diaspora recently established an International Advisory Committee to assist the Commission with its academic biomedical and biotechnology promotion in Nigeria under its PUBSD initiative [www.pubsd.org.ng/][NUC, top Nigerian scholars in U.S. reach deal to boost research in federal varsities ] [The Guardian News. Sunday, 13 July 2014 20:55]. Several members of this committee are research program directors in the academia and US Government agencies, and are managing highly successful science and technology R&D enterprises abroad. Some of them will likely available to move the NIB initiative forward and sustain the biomedical R&D enterprise. Besides, a Nigerian NIB can expand and apply the NUC’s PUBSD platform aiming to promote biosciences R&D in Nigerian universities through building of international collaborations and global knowledge management resources.
Therefore, if persuaded by Govt’s commitment to establish an NIH-like agency, key international agencies and Foundations may contribute toward the establishment and/or sustenance of the biomedical R&D activities in different ways. For example, the US NIH has a number of Biomedical Research Cooperative and Collaborative Initiatives and programs with several countries that enable the NIH to fund biomedical R&D in those countries. Israel, China, Germany, Singapore and Japan are some of those countries. The United States–China Program for Biomedical Research Cooperation is a joint initiative between US NIH and the Chinese government research funding agency, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), to co-fund U.S. and Chinese scientists to conduct collaborative basic and translational biomedical research, including mechanistic studies of Traditional Chinese Medicine products. Nigeria has established numerous bi-national scientific, technical and technological agreements and commissions with several industrialized countries [e.g., the US-Nigerian science and technology commission] through which funding of NIB’s biomedical R&D activities can be sustained for the long term.
Furthermore, the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) is a new science and technology R&D-promoting platform aiming to manage Africa-focused research programmes and to function as a think tank to direct the continent’s science. AESA was launched in June 2015 involving some African heads of state, and will operate out of the headquarters of the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi. Three international funding bodies are giving seed cash of ~US$4.5 million to establish AESA. The London-based biomedical charity the Wellcome Trust also is transferring the management of millions of dollars in its research funds to AESA. AESA’s other two backers are the UK Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in USA. AESA plans to train and empower a critical numbers of excellent scientists in Africa. Dr. Tom Kariuki, a Kenyan immunologist was appointed as the AESA director in March 2015. AESA will invite funders both on and outside the continent to delegate the peer-review and grant management of their African programmes to the alliance, thereby shifting the center of gravity for African funding decisions to the continent, and to create more buy-in from African governments on the research being done in Africa. The realization of a Nigerian NIH-like agency will position the country to benefit greatly from AESA from the standpoint of a national platform than when individual scientists are dealing with the pan-African agency.
The governing Board of NIB will have as a key responsibility the continuous sourcing of local and international funding to sustain the mission-oriented biomedical R&D activities at academic, public and corporate research institutions in Nigeria.
About the Members of the National Universities Commission’s International Advisory Committee for the Promotion of University Biomedical Science Research Development, PUBSD]
a. Prof Joseph U. Igietseme, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Immunology [MSM], Chief, Molecular Pathogenesis Laboratory, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, GA USA.
b. Prof Charles N. Rotimi, Ph.D., Director, Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health; Snr Investigator, Genomics of Metabolic, Cardiovascular and Inflammatory Disease Branch, Bethesda, MD USA.
c. Dr. Innocent Mbawuike, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Baylor College of Medicine, BCM Vaccine Research Center, Dept of Molecular Virology & Microbiology, Houston, TX USA.
d. Prof Nelson M. Oyesiku, MD, PhD, FACS, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Professor of Medicine, Emory University, Program Director, Neurosurgery Residency. The Al Lerner Chair in Neurosurgery and Vice-Chairman, Dept of Neurosurgery; Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Neurosurgery and Biotechnology, Atlanta, GA USA.
e. Prof Francis O. Eko, Ph.D., Professor, Microbiology, Biochemistry & Immunology, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA USA.
f. Prof Abba Gumel, Ph.D., FAS, FAAS., Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Science & African Academy of Sciences; C. Castillo-Chavez Professor of Mathematical Biology, Deputy Director, Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, USA
g. Prof Olufunmilayo F. Olopade, MBBS, FACP, OON., Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor/Associate Dean for Global Health, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL USA.
h. Prof William Undie, Ph.D., Professor & Chair of Radiologic Sciences, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.
Appendix 1: Models of Bioeconomy Success in the United States, China and Singapore
In the United States, the active and sustained Government funding of basic and applied biomedical research at public and academic institution through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a key policy instrument used to support and promote the bioeconomy. For instance, since 2000, the NIH’s annual budget has ranged between US$24 and $34 billion. By sustaining policy instruments like: (a) the NIH’s steady funding of competitive academic biomedical research (NIH supports up to 75% of academic biomedical research in the US); (b) the NIH’s elaborate intramural research programs that include active basic and translational biomedical research and provision of vital biomedical research resources to the public; and (c) the active NIH’s biomedical R&D leadership in providing or setting research directions and national priorities; the US continues to see enhanced benefits in economic expansion, wage growth and maintenance of global leadership in biomedical innovation. The US, like other booming bioeconomies, realizes that academic research is the nucleus of basic science research with a very high prospect of discovering new principles that drive innovation, and maintains the pool of knowledge principles for private corporations. Therefore, academic research occupies a pre-eminent place in the society and the economy, and has played a key role in driving U.S. global innovation leadership in general. Indeed, it has become almost a matter of faith in global economic and innovation policy circles to point to U.S. research universities as the secret weapon in the U.S. economic competitiveness arsenal [according to the US Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) that advocates for more university research funding]. NESTA, a prominent UK innovation foundation, reported that two-thirds of UK private-sector productivity growth in the last two decades was a result of innovation that flowed from academia. So there is relentless public and private advocacy to strongly support academic research, including bioscience R&D, in the developed nations to maintain competitive edge in innovation and ensure long-term economic growth, citizens’ good health and national prosperity. In addition to maintaining a stable funding of academic and public bioscience research, the NIH policy on intellectual property provides a tremendous incentive for translational research, since the scientist and affiliate institutions keep the economic benefits (e.g., patents, inventions and their licensing) that accrue from the research funded by the agency! All the Government wants from the scientist and collaborators is a competitive and innovative research proposal that scales through a rigorous peer-reviewed system of the NIH in tune with the nation’s public policy guidelines. Unlike the US NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the main US non-biomedical science public agency, has successfully confined its activities to the support of extramural work in the universities but has no intramural research activities.
China’s bioeconomy support and promotion model has replicated the essential elements of the US success strategies. Toward the turn of the millennium, China realized her underinvestment in biomedical research, compared with other countries; and so she sought to bolster the bioeconomy by building the pillars of an active national bioscience promotion through key public policy instruments that mirror the US strategy. China has included the bioeconomy and biomedical science and biotech sectors as priorities within its 12 consecutive five-year economic guidelines up to 2015. In cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Science, a proposal for a national, grant-awarding biomedical research agency modelled on the US NIH’s active support of academic and public R&D was in the early 2000s [see: Why China needs an NIH. Nature 15 April 2004 Volume 428 Issue no 6984. P679. www.nature.com/nature]. Like the US, the implementation of the policy instrument enabled China to adequately mobilize, incentivize and rapidly achieve the impact of the emerging strength and influence of China- and Diaspora-based biological scientists in the structure of China research institutions that drive the Chinese bioeconomy. The agency provides a stable research support that has resulted in a more structured, stable, reliable and mission-oriented biomedical research community, and distributes competitive grants through a transparent, fair peer-review system, just like the US NIH. In addition, the NIH-like agency provides biomedical research coordination and sets national and international safety, and ethics standards for biomedical research operations in the country. Furthermore, because of the crucial role of academic basic and translational research in national innovation, China believes its NIH-like agency will better operate an extramural grant system to fund research proposals to university scientists on a competitive basis, which would lead to greater national innovation. Besides, China’s NIH-like agency is attracting more biomedical experts and specialists from outside China, including the growing cadre of excellent, Chinese-born scientists working in the United States and Europe. The implementation of this Government’s policy instrument included a commitment to run the NIH-like agency with minimal bureaucracy, involvement of Governments at all levels (Fed, states and local) and full transparency in the key research grant proposal review and award component to accelerate the development of biomedical research in China and boost the bioeconomy. Like the US NIH, the Chinese agency will be involved in both the distribution of extramural grants and in intramural biomedical research as well.
The Singapore’s successful bioeconomy promotion model also involves an NIH-like agency that provides national R&D orientation, set priorities, and fund biomedical research at academic and public research institutions. Lim Chuan Poh’s analyzed Singapore’s bioeconomy success in 2010, observing that: “Singapore’s national economy has evolved rapidly in just a few decades from labor-intensive manufacturing to high-tech production and now to corporate management and world-class research; Singapore has emerged as a biotech cluster, …..moved up the value chain and positioned itself as a world-class center for R&D through significant government investment.” [Singapore: Betting on Biomedical Sciences. Issues in Science and Technology, Vol XXVI, Issue 3, 2010].
Singapore’s key strengths are its government-supported research institutes; its educated and skilled workforce; and its supportive government, business, and regulatory environment. Identifying the biomedical sciences as an area with tremendous growth potential, since the late 1990s, the Govt has committed to the biomedicine R&D enterprise investment for the long run. It started with the key building blocks, establishing core scientific biomedical research capabilities by focusing on the human, intellectual, and industrial capitals, and strengthening its capabilities in translational and clinical research in order to quickly bring scientific discoveries from the bench to the bedside, which ultimately boosted the bioeconomy. As policies and instruments for bioeconomy success, Singapore implemented a biomedical sciences initiative through four key strengths: the first strategy was a government’s commitment to R&D through boosting and sustenance of funding of academic and public research; thus, from 2000, Singapore increased R&D investment progressively to ~2.10% of GDP by 2010, and targeted a gross domestic expenditure on R&D (GERD) of 3.5% of GDP by 2015. At least 25% of the R&D budget has been committed to the biomedical sector. The public investment also spurred private investment that doubles every dollar of the public; and public agency collaborations with private corporations increased in a bid to close ranks for rapid achievement of common R&D goals. The other strategy used by Singapore for bioeconomy promotion include : (a) the institutionalization of an integrated and well-connected public sector that prioritized and promoted biomedicine R&D from the top to the bottom ranks; (b) assembly of skilled experts and talented scientists; and (c) the creation of a favorable business environment for biomedical businesses and investors.
In these respects, the President, Vice President, Ministers science/technology and health, as well as all policy and key activity directors took active interest in promoting biomedical sciences. In this deliberate effort to have an integrated and coordinated national approach to biomedical R&D, key agencies and commissions were focused on directing, prioritizing and coordinating biosciences R&D; for example, the Research, Innovation & Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by the prime minister, sets the strategic direction for Singapore’s R&D initiatives, and the key work is done by public-sector research institutes. The lead public-sector R&D agency, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), receives 40% of the total public-sector R&D funds to carry out various activities with its partners. A*STAR has two councils: the NIH-like Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) and the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC), to steer and support R&D activities in the biomedical sciences and the physical sciences and engineering, respectively. The NIH-like BMRC with seven research institutes and five research consortia has built up considerable strengths in six key research areas spanning the spectrum of biomedical sciences research, from basic to translational to clinical research: biomedical engineering, cancer genetics, infectious disease and immunology, metabolic diseases, molecular cell and development biology, and stem cells and regenerative medicine. So like the US NIH, Singapore’s BMRC is well positioned to support academic basic research as well translational industry activities at every step of the way, from bench to bedside or pharmacy shelves. Indeed, the platform technologies being supported are aligned with four main industry sectors: biotechnology and biologics, health care services and delivery, medical engineering and technology, and pharmaceuticals. Besides, Singapore is leveraging its investment in biomedical R&D to attract more industry to the country thereby creating a sustainable biomedical sciences hub. In a complementary organizational and operational fashion that produces synergy in the biomedicine enterprise, A*STAR’s other council, SERC, with seven research institutes and one center has built up strengths in eight key areas: biotechnology; chemistry; computational and device technologies; information, communications, and media; materials; manufacturing technology; mechatronics and automation; and metrology. Its research areas are also aligned with four main industry sectors: electronics, infocomm, chemicals, and engineering. Innovation is the main focus of SERC in order to add value to current strengths in manufacturing processes and thus stay ahead of the crowd. Finally, in order to foster interdisciplinary and cross-council research, A*STAR created the A*STAR Joint Council to facilitate interactions between BMRC and SERC, and with corporate laboratories and private-sector companies, which foster ties between the public and private sectors.
Singapore recognized that talent is the key to knowledge creation and value-generating R&D activities; and so it adopted a holistic strategy in its talent hunt, attracted and assembled world-class scientists, both local and international, at all levels and in all areas of the R&D landscape. In training, Singapore committed to intensive foreign training and scholarships at top institutions in the world, as well as specific brain-gain mechanisms for attracting scientists to the academic and public research centers. The bolstering academic and public R&D and innovation have been supported by deliberate industrialization push through emphasis on careers in bioprocessing and manufacturing. These programs have produced top-notch researchers for industry, contributing to the development of a world-class R&D hub in Singapore. Singapore’s economy is ranked the second freest in the world; with transparency and speed in its commercial operations, and corruption is perceived to be almost “nonexistent.” The tax regime is very competitive, the labor market highly flexible to encourage investment and attract global companies. Both “foreign and domestic investors are treated equally, and Singapore’s legal system is efficient and highly protective of intellectual and private property. All of these factors work to enhance Singapore’s attractiveness for R&D and business.
As a bioeconomy success story, Singapore now competes with several industrialized nation in biomedical R&D and innovation, including the United States. As a boost to the academia, some of Singapore’s autonomous universities have been ranked among the top universities in the world, some in the top 100 universities in the world for engineering, information technology, life sciences and biomedicine and natural sciences. Singapore is a hub for several major international biomedical corporations: Abbott, Roche, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Schering-Plough, Wyeth, Siemens, and Becton-Dickson, GlaxoSmithKline, Baxtor, Novartis, Genentech, and Lonza et cetera, all in cutting-edge research and manufacturing output over $25 billion at present. This has spurred job creation, employment and national innovation. The biomedical research publications and reports and primary patents that will form a pipeline for commercialization and economic activities are staggering; commercialization of A*STAR’s technologies are resulting in spinoff companies such as VeriStem, Curiox Biosystems, and MerLion Pharmaceuticals. Singapore understands that the R&D push in the biomedical sciences is a long-term process that yields enormous returns. Again, all these efforts lead to a boost in national innovation, productivity, economic growth, citizens’ wellbeing and national prosperity. Thus, like the United States, public sector-led research institutes that engage in both basic and mission-oriented R&D, funding of academia and corporate supports have resulted in the successful development of a spectrum of capabilities, an educated and skilled workforce, and a supportive business and regulatory environment to culminate in a bustling bioeconomy enterprise in Singapore.
DISCLAIMER : Opinion articles are solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of ElombahNews!
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