An interview with Daphne Teo, CEO and Founder of NSG BioLabs, on the company, what it offers, and some challenges and opportunities for Asian biotech companies.
Some time in 2005, the first official co-working space, San Francisco Coworking Space, was set up by Brad Neuberg at a feminist collective called Spiral Muse in the Mission district of San Francisco. Since then, co-working spaces have popped up all over the world.
Co-working spaces are essentially shared workspaces, where people from various companies share a common working space with office-like amenities like desks, meeting rooms, and pantries. Such shared spaces bring people from different companies together, breaking down physical barriers and encouraging collaborations and partnerships. Likewise, co-working laboratories work in the same way, fostering better cooperation and relations between biotech companies.
Here, we speak to Daphne Teo, CEO and Founder of NSG BioLabs, a co-working laboratory and office space in Singapore, about the company, what it offers, and some challenges and opportunities for Asian biotech companies.
1. NSG BioLabs is a fully-equipped co-working laboratory and office space, home to several biotechnology-related startups. Could you tell us a little more about the company, how it works, and what it provides?
NSG BioLabs is Singapore’s largest and leading biotech incubator that aims to provide a conducive environment for biotech companies in Singapore to grow, scale, and commercialise their operations.
Emerging biotech companies most often require a bio-safety level 2 laboratory, high-cost and specialised laboratory equipment, expert guidance, and access to networks to achieve breakthrough results. At NSG BioLabs, we provide all of the above in an efficient and easy-to-access offering.
Our BSL-2 lab comprises qRT-PCRs, Thermocyclers and PCR Hoods; BioSafety Cabinets, Centrifuges, Cell Counter, Nanophotometer and Incubators; Flow Cytometer, Microplate Reader, Microscopes and Gel Imaging; Type 1 & 2 Water System, Fume Hoods, Autoclaves and Water Baths; Cold Room, Floor Centrifuge, Fridges and Freezers; and Vacuum System, CO2 Gas and Liquid N2 Cryo Storage.
We currently have around 20 companies in NSG BioLabs, with a mixture of large and small companies. Multinational companies include Applied Materials, L’Oreal, Oxford Nanopore and Crown Bioscience, and smaller venture-backed companies include Engine Biosciences, AbAsia, PairX, Immunoscape, among others.
2. Apart from equipment, how else is NSG BioLabs supporting biotech companies in Singapore and Asia?
Apart from equipment, NSG BioLabs provides critical BSL-2 laboratory space for biotech to start work. Typically, building a BSL-2 laboratory space takes millions of dollars and a year or more to build. Our space saves significant time and money for companies so they can focus on their research.
In addition, we also provide our residents, access to our network of companies, which includes many important equipments, tools, and reagent suppliers who give our companies special discounts and deals. This saves start-ups time and money as well.
We also have a team of expert business and scientific mentors that the residents can get access to for advice. This can be especially valuable for first-time founders who have less experience and pre-established networks. Our mentors have been founders of exciting start-ups and understand what it takes to build biotech companies.
Lastly, we have recently launched our three-year Amgen Golden Ticket program, where winners of this program will get one-year of free residency, access to the NSG platform, and also valuable time with Amgen founders. We plan to launch more of these programs in the coming years.
3. How do the residents contribute to diversifying Singapore’s biotech ecosystem by setting up their R&D hubs in the country?
Each company brings different R&D capabilities, experiences, and product types. Many of these are synergistic and important to the broader ecosystem, given the many inputs and steps in the value chain needed for successful R&D and commercialisation. Also, some companies come from overseas while others are locally born, and this diversity helps the proliferation of ideas and access to different markets.
Biotechnology is an industry that’s global, complex, and interconnected, and it’s very important to have the diversity that NSG BioLabs helps bring to the ecosystem. For example, partnerships and collaborations have been forged between companies at NSG BioLabs and knowledge sharing within and beyond NSG BioLabs has been helping the ecosystem gain strength.
4. What are some challenges and opportunities in the biotech space in Asia right now?
There is a great opportunity in Asia for biotech because of multiple factors.
- Firstly, there are many great universities, research institutions, and scientists generating innovations in Asia for the benefit of the region and globally. For example, the rate of patent filings, as one measure, has grown consistently and dramatically.
- Secondly, as the region develops economically further, the need for better healthcare solutions and the ability to spend increases, thus driving more demand for products that serve the Asian populations.
- Thirdly, the global pharmaceutical industry and investors are taking note of the long-term potential of Asia and investing more resources into the region.
Despite sector growth, Asian biotech companies face three important challenges.
- Firstly, there is a general shortage of high-quality and necessary infrastructure like laboratories and equipment for biotech startups. The Singapore government has been developing areas like Biopolis to solve this issue. In addition, players like NSG BioLabs help solve the infrastructure issue by providing turnkey and professionally managed solutions for companies
- Secondly, the lack of experienced talent is a challenge that is faced by biotech companies globally, even in the USA where the talent markets are competitive. We appreciate that the Singapore government has heavily invested in training bright young talent by sending many to the best schools overseas in various sciences, so Singapore has a healthy pool of researchers. Beyond this, however, there are few experienced company builders or drug developers who can capitalise on great research and manage the challenging journey of developing products and medicines for patients.
- Lastly, there is still relatively limited funding for companies based in Asia. This can be a challenge in general for biotech companies, because of the highly technical nature and specialisation needed, and then there is the added consideration of how to execute in ways suitable to the Asian ecosystems. In Asia and in particular, Singapore, we see strategic investors increasing their interest in backing strong companies and founders and a growing appreciation for the need for specialist and locally-astute investors to help deploy capital and build companies.
5. With the recent expansion of NSG BioLabs, what is the company’s vision for biotech in Asia? Will you be looking at expanding beyond the shores of Singapore and tapping into other key areas in Asia?
NSG BioLabs is very excited about the potential for biotech in Asia. Our mission is to enable and empower founders and scientists to deliver impactful products from scientific innovation, and we will always be looking for ways to do more for our mission. [APBN]
About the Interviewee
Daphne Teo is the founder and CEO of NSG Ventures and NSG BioLabs – Singapore’s largest and leading biotech co-working laboratory and office space.