‘The most critical factor is people’: DPM Heng on innovation at President’s Science & Tech Awards 2022


A strong research and innovation ecosystem has helped Singapore prosper for decades.

And talented people were key to this progress, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the President’s Science and Technology Awards 2022 last Friday (Dec 9).      

Singapore needs to attract top scientists from across the globe, while simultaneously grooming new difference-making scientists of our own, DPM Heng added.

“The pursuit of science and technology is by nature a global endeavour because knowledge knows no boundaries,” explained DPM Heng.

Propelling the next breakthroughs   

The truism of the time, though, is that global talent is in global shortage.

“The most critical factor is people,” said DPM Heng at the Awards, which President Halimah Yacob also attended, and which are the highest honours for research scientists and engineers in Singapore.

“For a small nation like Singapore to make an impact, we must continue to attract and retain a critical mass of top scientific talent here.”

Source: A*STAR, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology

“At the same time, we are redoubling our efforts to nurture our scientists, providing them with the opportunities to shine on the global stage,” he added.

Not least because knowledge knows no boundaries. Science is ultimately a global network of people who build upon each other’s discoveries, and so scientists can be mobile individuals.

“We need both,” said DPM Heng about Singapore’s push for talent.

“We need to welcome and anchor global talent from abroad. We also need to grow our own timber and make them global.”

“With a strong community of scientists, Singapore can propel the next waves of breakthroughs and innovation,” he said.

Singapore is a science powerhouse

Singapore’s already in good shape for these new scientists to do so.

“Today, our institutes of higher learning, A*STAR and academic medical centres have established a global standing,” said DPM Heng, harking back to Singapore’s first national technology plan in 1991.

“We have developed research peaks of excellence – in infectious diseases, quantum technologies, 2D materials, photonics, and more.”

Singapore is also recognised as a global innovation node. The top ten most innovative economies in the world (as per the Global Innovation Index)? We’re consistently there.

“We are home to nearly 4,000 tech start-ups, supported by a network of over 200 incubators and accelerators, and over 400 venture capitalists,” said the DPM.

A steadfast Government commitment towards funding research and development as well as Singapore’s strong tradition of tripartism — companies, academia and the public sector in close collaboration —  helped foster all these.

And the height of the ongoing pandemic was one way science and innovation proved the depth of Singapore’s research capabilities.

“The scientific community in Singapore contributed to the global fight — from developing diagnostic kits to contributing to the global Covid-19 database,” said DPM Heng.

“Our research scientists and engineers do important work. Their dedicated pursuit of research and development seeks to address real-life issues and improve the lives of our people,” posted President Halimah about the Awards that same Friday.

“Hope our scientific leaders will continue to push our country’s frontiers in science and technology, and use it for the greater good of Singapore’s economy and society.”

In other words, Singapore and Singaporeans already benefit from this science and technology research network.

More of the same for everyone’s good, please.

Honours for developing the R&D ecosystem

Entirely apropos in this light that this year’s top scientific honour, the President’s Science and Technology Medal, went to Professor Hong Wan Jin, who is the Executive Director of A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB).

Source: MCI, Chee

Prof Hong previously won the National Science Award in 1999 for his world-leading work on protein transport.

“As the Executive Director of IMCB since 2011, Prof Hong has sustained the scientific excellence of Singapore’s oldest life sciences institute,” said DPM Heng.  

“He established strong collaborative relationships with other parts of academia and the clinical research community to translate upstream discoveries into tangible benefits for patients.”

“Under his leadership, IMCB has spun off 15 start-ups in the last seven years. For example, one of them, Biocheetah, is undertaking clinical trials in the US, China, and Singapore for their non-invasive diagnostics for bladder cancers. These start-ups have collectively raised around $30 million to date,” added the DPM.

And that’s still not the entirety of what Prof Heng did this time round.

“In addition, Prof Hong has also played an active role in nurturing young scientists in A*STAR and the wider ecosystem. Under his watch, 17 IMCB researchers have received the Young Scientist Awards, the NRF Fellowship, or the NRF Investigatorship,” said DPM Heng.

This last is important. Singapore’s overall research ecosystem is stronger because a top talent like Prof Heng nurtured these 17 other talents as well.

Because they’re now primed to do more great things for Singapore. Scale more of those peaks of research. Nurture other researchers. Propel more waves of breakthroughs. Make it rain.  

Cover photo credit: a*star/Facebook