Cablegate: Singapore Pushing R&D and Poaching Talent

DE RUEHGP #0884/01 2570833
R 140833Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Singapore (GOS) aims to
grow research and development (R&D) spending to three percent
of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010. GOS agencies
advocate a results-driven and integrative approach to R&D in
order to expand the local economy and involve foreign
researchers in developing local talent. Prominent
Singaporeans in charge of a multi-billion dollar fund run by
the Prime Minister's office actively seek and hire foreign
scientists, researchers and academics to develop Singapore,s
R&D, education, and commercial capabilities in areas such as
life sciences, clean technologies, and digital and
interactive media. Scientists that have relocated here
attribute Singapore,s success in luring talent to: visible
government commitment to and understanding of sciences;
generous funding; freedom to develop projects with minimal
administrative burdens; and Singapore,s strategic location
in Asia. Compared to the complexities involved in conducting
research in the United States, Singapore's small size and
spportive environment have created what some have called a
"scientific oasis," that has attracted many U.S. scientists.
Still, Singapore has its work cut out to develop the local
talent and entrepreneurship required to anchor R&D here
longer term.

GOS Increasing Public Spending on R&D

2. (SBU) The GOS aims to increase overall R&D spending from
2.3 to 3 percent of GDP by 2010 by investing and attracting
foreign investment in three core areas: life sciences, clean
technologies (e.g., water and energy technologies), and
digital and interactive media. Several GOS agencies are
tasked with attracting investment and talent, including the
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), the
Economic Development Board (EDB), the Ministry of Education,
and the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is a
multi-billion dollar fund established in 2006 within the
Prime Minister's office. Each agency has a slightly
different role, but all are focused on bringing companies,
institutions and higher-value jobs to Singapore and using
foreign money and talent to build up local capabilities in
R&D. To spur this process, the GOS plans to double the
public R&D budget from S$5 billion (US$3.47 billion) in 2005
to S$13.55 billion (US$9.4 billion) in 2010. It has allotted
S$5 billion to NRF, S$5.4 billion (US$3.75 billion) to
A*Star, S$1.05 billion (US$730 million) for academic
research, and S$2.1 billion (US$1.46 billion) to promote
private sector R&D, according to NRF.

Results Driven, Integrative Approach

3. (SBU) Singapore emphasizes industry focused R&D,
commercialization of R&D and local talent development, rather
than more theoretical, "blue sky" projects, Prof. CHONG Tow
Chong, Executive Director of A*Star said in a recent
presentation to the American Chamber of Commerce. For
example, small local technology-intensive companies can
upgrade capabilities and expand export potential by working
with one of A*Star's research institutes, which can include
seconding scientists to the local company, and tapping
International Enterprise (IE) Singapore to help with export
promotion under A*Star's "GET-Up" and "T-Up" programs.
A*Star's Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC)
coordinates and helps fund an aerospace technology consortium
that includes sixteen members (e.g., Boeing, Pratt & Whitney
and Rolls Royce) and emphasizes R&D relevant to the aerospace
industry such as developing erosion resistant coating for
airframes. U.S. scientist, Kerry Sieh, the Director and
Professor at the Earth Observatory of Singapore, told Emboffs
that in addition to the research he is doing in Singapore, he
has been asked to work with MOE to create an earth sciences
curriculum for secondary-school students here.

4. (SBU) The GOS has underwritten certain R&D initiatives,
such as biotechnology projects, an approach that differs from
that taken by the United States government. In the United
States, National Institutes of Health (NIH) ethics rules
require extensive documentation of meetings that NIH
researchers have with private sector businesses, and the
rules limit collaboration and the amount of compensation that
NIH scientists can receive for consulting with private
industry, a visiting NIH researcher told Poloff. In
comparison, the GOS encourages and subsidizes scientists who
wish to convert their discovery into real income, he said.
Registering a business in Singapore can take as little as
fifteen minutes via an online process. Scientists in
biotechnology fields can apply for a three-year sabbatical,
which includes a US$100,000 per annum stipend to launch new
business ventures, the NIH researcher continued. Clinical

SINGAPORE 00000884 002 OF 004

trials are often approved within three weeks. New biotech
manufacturing businesses can draw on GOS subsidies to build
new manufacturing facilities and can be operating within
24-36 months of initiation, according to the EDB's Web site.

5. (SBU) Agencies like A*Star and EDB advocate an
integrative and cost-efficient research model that is enabled
by collocating multi-disciplinary facilities. Scientists
gain from having access to counterparts in a range of science
and technology fields that can combine on projects (e.g.,
biology and nanotechnology), and investors enjoy reduced
capital expenditures because multiple companies or
institutions can share access to expensive equipment.
Singapore built Biopolis in 2003, a US$365 million,
seven-building life sciences complex containing five research
institutes: the Bioinformatics Institute, The Bioprocessing
Technology Institute, the Genome Institute of Singapore, the
Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, and the Institute of
Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. Nearby, in 2008, the GOS
opened Fusionopolis, a similarly ambitious complex for
research in materials science, engineering data storage,
microelectronics, manufacturing technology, high performance
computing, and information and communications. A*Star also
organizes R&D priorities thematically in areas such as:
sustainable development; health and wellness; mega-cities;
and high-value manufacturing.

Prominent Singaporeans Court Prominent R&D Talent
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (SBU) Singaporeans at the highest levels of government
and business have a hand in realizing Singapore's R&D vision.
Alongside the NRF, the Prime Minister chairs the Research,
Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), which is tasked
with advising the Singapore Cabinet on R&D policies and
facilitating the transformation of Singapore to a
knowledge-based economy. RIEC members include: Dr. Tony
Tan, NRF Chairman and Deputy Chairman of Singapore sovereign
wealth fund Government Investment Corporation (GIC); Deputy
Prime Minister and Minister for Defense Teo Chee Hean; the
Ministers for Finance, Trade and Industry, and Health; as
well as private sector leaders from Harvard Business School,
Stanford University, and DBS Bank. Philip Yeo, the former
chairman of A*STAR and EDB was famous for poaching U.S.
scientists, but now others like Tony Tan have taken up the
mantle to personally recruit global science and technology
talent using multi-million dollar NRF grants and assurances
of limited GOS interference in their projects. Scientists
remarked to Emboffs that they were impressed with the caliber
of GOS officials they met during initial discussions about
Singapore and said that kind of GOS access and support
motivated the scientists to relocate here.

Personal Networks Also Key

7. (SBU) Many other scientists are lured to Singapore
through personal connections resulting from collaborative
work and scientific conferences hosted here. Biomedical
scientists from Novartis working in Singapore told Poloff
that they learned of research opportunities in Singapore
through existing collaborative relationships between
Singapore institutions and U.S. universities and government
agencies (e.g., NIH and the National Science Foundation
(NSF)). When the scientists traveled to Singapore for
conferences or consultations, they were offered lucrative
positions based on the recommendations of the local
scientists or institutions. Singapore played host for the
second time this summer to U.S. graduate students
participating in the NSF East Asia and Pacific Summer
Institutes program, and at the opening ceremony the local
university faculty made a strong pitch for the U.S. students
to consider moving to Singapore for post-graduate work.

The GOS Shows Scientists the Money and Commitment
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (SBU) Financial incentives for scientists moving to
Singapore can be substantial. An NIH scientist told Poloff
that he has been approached approximately 12 times with job
offers in Singapore's biotechnology industry. The salary
offers have ranged from two to four times his annual
US$150,000 salary at NIH and included an annual 25 percent
bonus, housing and dependent child educational subsidies, he
said. Other U.S. scientists based in Singapore confirmed
that the salary scale in Singapore is considered generous.
An assistant professor can earn from US$61-105,000; associate
professors earn US$94-177,000; and full professors earn
US$155-234,000. Singapore will also fund scientists on a
contract basis, sparing them the regular grant-writing

SINGAPORE 00000884 003 OF 004

process necessary in other countries. A local scientist told
Poloff that contracts can be as long as five to ten years.
Each scientists' work is reviewed by an A*Star committee
every six months to confirm funded work is productive.
Unproductive contracts are canceled.

9. (SBU) Beyond the financial benefits of moving to
Singapore, scientists cited the very visible GOS commitment
to science and technology and R&D. Singapore is a smaller,
less competitive environment than the United States. Top
experts in their fields are brought to Singapore to pioneer
new R&D projects, university departments, and curriculum,
Kerry Sieh told Emboffs. The timeline for having projects
approved can be dramatically shorter than in more mature and
complex markets like the United States. Sieh said that when
he was in talks with the GOS to develop the Earth Observatory
of Singapore, MOE actually developed the first draft of his
proposal, anticipating how the GOS might like the Observatory
to function. Sieh said that about 70 percent of the initial
proposal from MOE was "right on," so he only had to make
revisions and fill in the other 30 percent, saving him time
and effort. The proposal was approved in less than six
months. Sieh said a comparable project in the United States
could take several years and require a very competitive and
labor-intensive grant-proposal process.

Other Lures: Stem Cells, Easy Immigration and IPR
--------------------------------------------- -----

10. (SBU) In addition to the GOS investment, infrastructure
and support for R&D, Singapore is exploiting its other
advantages. Singapore has had more permissive stem cell
research regulations than the United States. Human embryonic
stem cells can be obtained from surplus embryos produced for
fertility treatments in Singapore. Human embryos can also be
created for research purposes and kept up to 14 days, the
point where the embryos start forming tissues and organs.
Foreign scientists also remarked to Poloff that visa and
immigration issues in the United States drove them to
Singapore. An Indian scientist who worked for five years at
NIH told Poloff that he waited four months for his H1B1 visa
renewal in India and decided instead to come to Singapore. A
Chinese-born scientist told Poloff, "Tell your people in
Washington that I wanted to be American, but the United
States didn't want me. Instead, now I bring my talents to
Singapore." Intellectual property (IP) protections are also
key to encouraging multinationals to conduct R&D here.
Relative to its neighbors, Singapore's patent protection
regime is strong. However, some questions remain about
patent ownership in certain scenarios. When A*Star seconds
scientists to local companies, the local company would own IP
generated from the collaboration, A*Star's Chong said. Other
scientists said that in cases where scientists are funded by
the GOS, the scientists split patent royalties with the GOS,
usually on a 50/50 basis.

A Foreign Scientist's Oasis, but Work to do Locally
--------------------------------------------- ------

11. (SBU) Singapore aims to establish itself as a science
and technology hub for the region, mostly by bringing in
foreign researchers and institutions that locate here for the
access Singapore provides to the rest of Asia. Duke
University and the National University of Singapore (NUS)
collaborate in Singapore on emerging infectious disease
research because much of the global population growth and
urbanization is happening in Asia, Duane Gubler, Director for
the Program on Emerging and Infectious Disease at Duke-NUS
Medical School, told Emboffs. Kerry Sieh noted that he
valued the opportunity Singapore provided to build an earth
sciences program from the ground up in Singapore that also
reaches students studying here from Indonesia, Malaysia and
India. Foreign scientists have said Singapore is like a
science and technology oasis in the region in terms of the
local funding available and the economic opportunities Asia
represents for future commercialization of technologies.
However, local talent still has to catch up. At the Earth
Observatory of Singapore, all of the administrative staff is
Singaporean, but almost all of the researchers are foreign,
Sieh noted. A*Star's Chong deduced, based on Singapore's
annual birth rate of approximately 35,000, that only 700 of
those born annually are likely to go on to study at the very
top global universities. Out of that only a small number
would enter science and technology fields. Therefore, it
will be several more years before Singapore has sufficient
local talent to anchor R&D here longer term.

12. (SBU) A*Star's former chairman, Philip Yeo was
instrumental in building Singapore's biomedical sector and
Yeo now heads Spring Singapore, the local equivalent to the

SINGAPORE 00000884 004 OF 004

U.S. Small Business Administration. While Singapore has been
very successful in luring foreign scientists and corporations
to its soil and providing fertile ground for R&D, it has been
far less able to incubate and develop new local companies.
Singapore is not a hotbed for entrepreneurship or venture
capital. Failure is still seen as a career-ender and not a
step on the way to developing a successful business. The
challenge in results-driven Singapore is to produce new small
businesses and create jobs. Given Singapore's aversion to
failure and reliance on government-led business initiatives,
Philip Yeo and Spring Singapore have their work cut out
developing local R&D that can result in thriving Singaporean

Visit Embassy Singapore's Classified website: ex.cfm

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