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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Chairman of the National Research Foundation, at the Launch of the WIL@NUS Corporate Laboratory on 19 June 2018, at the National University of Singapore

19 Jun 2018

Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, Chairman, NUS Board of Trustees

Mr Kuok Khoon Hong, Chairman and CEO, Wilmar International Limited  

Professor Tan Eng Chye, NUS President

Ladies and Gentlemen

  1. Happy to see so many familiar faces here. Now, in fact, I just came together with Professor Low Teck Seng from our meeting of the NRF Board, with my NRF staff. We are doing a midterm review of our R&D plan and planning for our next R&D plan. So the work has already started. And in fact, we have been aiming to provide steady and consistent funding over the years, and into the future years. As part of this effort, it is very important for us to link academic research to industry for translation. In turn, this translates into benefits for our people – for the people in Singapore and the people around the world. In the case of Singapore, the importance of it resulting in job creation, product development, and manpower training for our companies.

  2. Now, our Corporate Labs that have been set up in the universities will draw on the research capabilities and infrastructure to translate research outcomes to market, and strengthen academic and industry partnerships. So the WIL@NUS Corporate Labs is the eleventh corporate lab that has been started since the scheme was launched.

    Leveraging Existing Capabilities for Growth

  3. Now, what are the R&D strengths that provide for this partnership between Wilmar and NUS?
    1. The Government, has over the years, supported research that looks into various aspects of human health and disease, aimed at improving the overall health and well-being of Singaporeans and of people around the world. This includes large-scale programmes to help us better understand the development of diseases as well as the impact of nutrition on human health.

    2. In particular, in 2013, the Government funded SiNMeD, a multi-disciplinary programme that focuses on fundamental, clinical and translational research to understand the role of nutrition in the onset and progression of obesity and diabetes. The Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), which is a programme under SiNMeD, is studying the impact of nutrients intake on human physiology, sensory properties, and the role of food structure on human nutrition and health.

    3. With the push towards sustainability and a reduction in dependence on oil, a bio-based economy, where biological systems are built for research, engineering and medical applications, could transform manufacturing processes, health and nutrition, and grow new industries. The Government therefore started in 2013 to fund research into synthetic biology. With a small base of research capability and established national research platform, like the NUS Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation (SynCTI), the NUS-led Singapore Consortium for Synthetic Biology (SINERGY) was launched in Sep 2016 to allow companies to interact and explore joint projects with academia and A*STAR.

    4. In 2018, NRF then funded a $25M five-year national Synthetic Biology R&D Programme, under the leadership of Prof Chua Nam Hai to further advance Singapore’s Synthetic Biology research agenda and expertise. This programme aims to deepen Synthetic Biology capabilities in Singapore, including some translation of research outcomes for clinical and industrial use.

    Challenges that Wilmar and NUS Seek to Address through this Corporate Lab

  4. So these are some of things that we have done, and today, we are very happy to see the launch of the Wilmar Corporate Lab, and I would like to briefly mention the challenges that this Lab seeks to address.

    1. Globally, changes in lifestyles have led to a shift to diets that are reliant on processed food, which can often be unhealthy. This has contributed to an increase in health issues such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases worldwide. The issue of diabetes is particular important in Singapore – over 400,000 Singaporeans have diabetes, and one in three Singaporeans has a lifetime risk of getting diabetes.

    2. The Corporate Lab will work with A*STAR’s Clinical Nutrition Research Centre to study how our diet impacts personal health, and to provide advice on the food ingredients or food combinations that will promote health and wellbeing, specific to our genetic make-up. This is important as the impact of diets to health, and progression of diseases and treatment of diseases, such as diabetes, could be different in Asian populations compared to Western populations. The Corporate Lab will hopefully advance health and wellbeing of Singaporeans and people around the world, and allow us to better understand how we can prevent and manage diabetes in Singapore in the long run, which will help us to win our “war” against diabetes. As you know, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong declared “war” on diabetes.

    3. As mentioned earlier too, there is a movement towards sustainability, and this Corporate Lab will utilise advances in Synthetic Biology to engineer chemical compounds using natural sources, in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

    4. Biochemical compounds are essential building blocks for a variety of industrial applications in Singapore and beyond, and can be used in a diverse range of industry sectors, from food and nutrition, flavour and fragrances, to therapeutics, just to name a few.
  5. Collectively the Corporate Lab is expected to contribute to the development of 11 healthier food products or more sustainable methods to produce biochemical compounds, to enhance Wilmar’s expanding product lines of healthy foods and contribute to its sustainable production of biochemicals. Through the partnership with NUS, the Corporate Lab will expand and further anchor Wilmar’s research programme in Singapore.



  6. This is Wilmar’s third research collaboration with an Institute of High Learning or research organisation, and NUS’ fourth Corporate Lab with an industry partner. This partnership between NUS and Wilmar is testimony to the increasing public-private R&D collaborations between universities and industry in our innovation ecosystem, which allow our universities to work closely with industry to develop commercially-applicable solutions for problems faced by industry.


  7. So, let me congratulate NUS and Wilmar for this very important and meaningful partnership.


  8. The Government is pleased to see our R&D investment bearing fruit in terms of enhanced economic value for industry as well as social good for our people. I am confident that the Corporate Lab can deliver impactful and meaning solutions for our people and our economy, and contribute to a better understanding of the importance of nutrition worldwide. So, I am looking forward to food products from the Corporate Lab that could enhance the health and wellbeing of our people, as well as greener and more sustainable production of biochemical compounds for our industry.

  9. On that note, my heartiest congratulations. Thank you.