New A*Star food innovation institute gives single touchpoint for industry

THE upcoming Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) will provide a single touchpoint for industry players interested in food innovation research when it opens by the second quarter of 2020.

A research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), SIFBI brings existing A*Star divisions together under common leadership for "a clearer strategy", said A*Star Biomedical Research Council assistant chief executive Benjamin Seet.

These existing efforts and research capabilities are in the areas of food, nutrition, public health, biotechnology, manufacturing, agri-food technology, and food safety research.

"These capabilities will support the development of solutions for the needs of the Asian market, such as the discovery and production of healthier and more sustainable foods," said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon, announcing the new institute in his keynote address at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week on Wednesday.

It is part of broader efforts to establish Singapore as a global leader in developing and commercialising agri-food innovation and technology solutions, he added.

Singapore is interested in such technology not only because it can provide alternative food sources for Singapore and other urban centres in Asia, "but also because they are natural additions to Singapore’s established industries, such as advanced manufacturing, biopharmaceuticals, food manufacturing, and specialty chemicals", said Dr Koh.

Among other upcoming moves to foster agri-food innovation, the government and regulatory agencies will soon jointly release an industry guide for farms, he said. "The guide will provide clarity on how regulations apply at the setting up phase, and be especially helpful for farms using new technologies."

A*Star senior director for the food and consumer cluster Ralph Graichen noted that apart from a clearer overall strategy and synergies across units, a single research institute also provides "one focal point to interact with industry".

A single food company could have a wide range of needs, he noted. By bringing together different research capabilities, the institute will be able to provide end-to-end support: from discovering novel ingredients, to food structure engineering to form a product, to food safety and regulatory considerations when going to market.

The new institute brings together the existing Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, Biotransformation Innovation Platform, Innovations in Food and Chemical Safety Programme, and Natural Product Library.

The main SIFBI office will be located in Biopolis, with a collaborative space for joint labs, incubators, and startups.

The institute starts off with more than 120 current staff from the constituent divisions, but its headcount will grow, with the exact figure depending on grant opportunities, said Dr Seet.