Singapore is continuing its drive to lure Western scientists with a strong presence at the recent Biotechnology Organization Annual Conference in Chicago. Top quality stem cell researchers are being particularly targeted to join Singapore's strongly Government supported Biopolis Laboratories. Top ranking American scientist couple Dr Judith Swain and Dr Edward Holmes have recently agreed to decamp from their California base to the new laboratories. Dr Swain, a heart researcher, will take over Singapore's new Institute for Clinical Sciences from September while her husband, who is currently dean of the University of California, San Diego medical school, and a ranking official with California's stem cell agency, will work as a government researcher.
The island nation, only 250 square miles in size, has already spent $4 billion on biotechnology and has committed another $8 billion to be spent up to 2010 in their effort to become the 'Boston of the East'. So far they have recruited about fifty senior scientists including British researcher Alan Colman, who played a crucial role in cloning Dolly the sheep. Benefits of relocating to Singapore include generous pay packages, state of the art laboratories and, most importantly, strong Government support. Singapore allows human cloning for research purposes but the resulting embryo may only be allowed to develop for up to 14 days. The law specifically prohibits reproductive cloning by banning the implantation of cloned embryos into either humans or animals.
The Biopolis site itself is spread over 10 acres and contains seven buildings up to 10 storeys tall connected by sky bridges. Philip Yeo, in his capacity as chairman of the Singaporean Agency for Science, Technology and Research - the Singapore version of the US National Institute of Health - is responsible for recruiting scientific talent. 'I am offering them academic freedom. They don't need to spend their time writing grant applications. We are much more efficient' he said. Recruits are typically given sizable five year government grants.
There have been some questions raised regarding Singapore's ability to attract and retain top scientists due to its notoriously harsh social policies which include a ban on chewing gum, caning miscreants and punishing political dissent. Last year, Warwick University dropped plans to open a Singapore campus after its faculty protested that the country's restrictions on free speech could cause trouble for outspoken students and professors. However, Dr Victor Dzau, Dean of Duke University's medical school, which is starting a Singapore program next year, does not agree. 'I would say just the opposite. In fact, I would say we have an embarrassment of riches. People are actually seeing this as a great opportunity' he said.