A*STAR SIMTech Launches Comprehensive Microfluidics Foundry for the Worldwide Microfluidic Community
Reflecting Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR's) strategic investments in R&D of innovative high-value manufacturing solutions, this will make Singapore a focal point for public-private sector microfluidic devices investments, R&D and manufacturing.
The Government continues its steadfast investments in growing R&D in Singapore. $16.1 billion Singapore dollars has been earmarked under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2011 to 2015 Plan or RIE 2015. This is an overall increase of about 20 per cent over the previous quinquennium and a commitment of 1 per cent of expected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to public sector research and innovation. With this increased commitment, there is also increased expectation and emphasis on economic impact and fostering commercialisation of R&D. Singapore aims to increase our gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) to 3.5 per cent of GDP by 2015.
The global microfluidics market is estimated to grow to US$5B in 2016 (Yole Developpement 2011, Microfluidic Substrates Market and Processing Trends), driven largely by the advancement of biotechnology and microtechnology. Although Singapore does not presently have a microfluidic industry, Fluidigm and microfluidic start-ups such as CAMTech, Clearbridge Biomedics, JN Medsys, Molbot and Fluigen have set up operations in Singapore for medical/life science applications, seeding the growth of such an industry in Singapore. A key enabling technology that cuts across multiple industry sectors, microfluidics is an important capability that has yet to be exploited.
A*STAR aims to exploit opportunities in the microfluidics space through harnessing our strengths in multi-disciplinary research across the biomedical, physical and engineering sciences. One of the unique and significant value propositions of A*STAR is the spectrum of capabilities that we have and our ability to organise the relevant parts in a synergistic way both within and beyond A*STAR to develop meaningful public-private partnerships.
The microfluidic industry, with its diverse applications spanning from point-of-care, clinical diagnostics, energy, water quality monitoring and chemical processing, is an ideal avenue for diversification and growth for the Singapore precision engineering and electronics industries.
Although microfluidic devices offer rapid analysis and diagnostic functions, the current high manufacturing cost, lack of design and manufacturing standards for large volume manufacturing of microfluidic devices inhibits its widespread commercial adoption. Furthermore, microfluidics with its diverse applications and the distinct requirements for each application make it difficult to standardise for mass production. Currently, many biochips are fabricated using silicon wafers or glass slides. The special processes required during the manufacturing of these silicon-based biochips prove to be expensive for disposable applications. Polymer materials, on the other hand, are better suited for fluidic sample analyses and fabrication can be achieved in bulk at a fraction of the cost for disposable applications. Through its competencies and capabilities to address these challenges, SMF can help nurture and grow the microfluidic industry in Singapore.
SMF provides the emerging microfluidic industry an integrated spectrum of competencies from design, simulation, prototyping to scalable technology development for mass production of polymer-based microfluidic devices. Companies can leverage on the integrated suite of services provided by SMF to reduce cost and improve efficiency as well as translate their laboratory concepts or prototypes to market in the shortest time cost-effectively by accessing the existing competencies and capabilities of microfluidic research in Singapore and Switzerland.
Dr Lim Ser Yong, Executive Director of SIMTech said, "The SIMTech Microfluidics Foundry provides a low-risk environment for companies to place their capital-intensive investments for testing and implementing microfluidic technology solutions. It also offers a strong base for precision engineering and electronics companies to expand and pursue growth in other industries, assisting in the development of microfluidic products for biomedical, pharmaceutical and chemical companies and help start-ups to accelerate its commercialisation process by providing robust manufacturing capabilities and innovative microfluidic solutions."
Today, SIMTech signed three research agreements with Rhodia Asia Pacific, CAMTech Management and Molbot to develop high-throughput microfluidic tools for applications and product development in pharmaceuticals; for water quality monitoring and for gene cloning respectively. SIMTech also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CAMTech Innovations (UK) and Clearbridge Biomedics to jointly develop design and manufacturing technologies of microfluidic devices for life science companies as well as intends to collaborate on development of manufacturing technologies and solutions for microfluidic devices for potential commercial use respectively. These microfluidic R&D commitments reflect the confidence of industry in SMF's competencies and capabilities, seeding a growing microfluidic industry in Singapore.
Dr Mario El-Khoury, CSEM Chief Executive Officer, said: "The SIMTech Microfluidics Foundry is a successful outcome of the research collaboration between CSEM and SIMTech. Today, SMF is a milestone for Singapore to grow the microfluidic industry. We look forward to furthering our collaboration with SMF to advance the microfluidic technology and its applications that impact the quality of life, such as healthcare, biomedical and life science research."