SINGAPORE - Mirxes, a biotechnology company based in Singapore and a spin-off from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), has opened the first Industry 4.0 (i4.0) manufacturing facility in South-east Asia.
The firm is investing $8 million into this facility to produce diagnostic test kits in vitro, which means outside the living body and in an artificial environment.
Located at JTC MedTech Hub in Jurong, Mirxes' plant is the largest manufacturing facility in the region, at 15,000 sq ft.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, who was the guest of honour at the event on Friday (May 27), said the facility has automated many processes, helping it to reduce downtime and errors, while increasing productivity at the same time.
"What is more important is that Mirxes also adopts technology in a sensible way. They will explain to you that in some operations, it is still better to have manpower, to have manual processes, not everything needs to be automated," Mr Gan said.
As part of its expansion plans, Mirxes will employ up to 50 people on-site by next year.
Dr Zhou Lihan, co-founder and CEO, said he is looking for a diverse range of talents or reskilled workers.
They include operators trained in bio-chemistry, data analytics, engineers and IT professionals.
With this new facility in place, Mirxes can accelerate plans to develop and commercialise its pipeline of blood-based test kits for cancer.
Cancer cells secrete a different profile of microRNA (miRNA) into the blood compared to healthy cells.
So Mirxes' test kits, which use the miRNA technology, will be able to detect these early signs of cancer before symptoms appear.
The biotech firm developed its first such test for stomach cancer, GastroClear in 2019.
It also harnessed miRNA technology to develop the first made-in-Singapore test kit for Covid-19.
This year, Mirxes intends to launch early detection tests for lung and thyroid cancer.
Diagnostic tests for colorectal and breast cancer will come up next year, followed by tests for liver and ovarian cancer in 2024.
Mirxes said diagnostic tests for pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases are also in the pipeline.
"This first-of-its kind facility in South-east Asia will equip the company with the ability to address the next big challenge in healthcare - cancer, and stay prepared should we need to combat another epidemic," Dr Zhou said.
Mirxes will work together with A*Star's Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) to accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing solutions and facilitate manufacturing at scale.
On the funding for this investment, Dr Zhou said the company is generating revenue and has also raised US$130 million (S$177 million) in venture funds over the last few years.
However, an initial public offering (IPO) is not in the pipeline yet, as markets are volatile now.
"IPO is certainly a very exciting milestone for any company. In our sector, most companies are looking at a timeline of 10 to 15 years. We are only eight years old. We will assess what is best for Mirxes in the next two to three years."
Mr Peter Ong, chairman of Enterprise Singapore (EnterpriseSG), said Mirxes' investment in i4.0-enabled manufacturing capabilities will contribute to Singapore's Manufacturing 2030 ambitions to grow a strong core of global manufacturers.
Mirxes already has operations in China, Japan and the US, and is currently exploring opportunities in South-east Asia, including in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Separately, Nexus, a 14,000 sq ft incubator space to help startups grow and commercialise their technologies, also opened on Friday.
Nexus is owned by EVX Ventures, a life sciences venture builder.
It is located in the heart of Biopolis at one-north Buona Vista, Singapore's biomedical sciences research hub, and comes with a fully integrated laboratory, tissue culture suites and other support facilities.