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Advancing the Capabilities of the Singapore Pharmaceutical Industry

Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry is a major contributor to the country’s growth. The industry dates back to the early 1970s, when Beecham Pharmaceuticals (now part of GlaxoSmithKline) set up an amoxicillin production plant along Quality Road. Over the next two decades, companies like Glaxo Wellcome (now part of GlaxoSmithKline) and Fisons (now part of Sanofi-Aventis) also established manufacturing operations in Singapore. However, the real acceleration of Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing growth only took place in the last 10-15 years after Singapore launched its Biomedical Sciences Initiative in 2000.

Many of the world’s leading manufacturers, such as AbbVie, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Roche set up new pharmaceutical production facilities here in rapid succession, driving the growth of the biomedical sciences sector. During the same period, Singapore invested heavily in R&D and established dedicated research institutes to develop new technologies relevant to the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry. For instance, A*STAR’s Institute of Chemical Engineering Services (ICES) and Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) were set up in 2002 and 2003 respectively, to support the industry with the development of innovative manufacturing technologies and processes through various public-private partnerships and research programmes. These efforts enhanced the breadth and depth of the industry’s capabilities, helping the local industry become more competitive and productive.

The expansion of the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector also spurred the formation of a supporting industry. In recent years, this was further helped by increased presence of international biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical companies as well as the establishment of more biotech firms that adopt new outsourcing paradigms in their quest to achieve operational flexibility. Today, the pharmaceutical supporting industry in Singapore is vibrant and comprises a spectrum of specialised service and product providers. These range from boutique firms that provide consultancy services, such as asset management, facility design, commissioning, qualification, and validation, to large equipment suppliers that fill niches in the supply chain and provide valuable services to facilitate the movement and storage of raw materials and finished products. Together, these companies serve the critical needs of the broader pharmaceutical industry, augmenting the capabilities of Singapore-based manufacturers, allowing them to meet ever-evolving industry challenges and capture future opportunities.

And indeed, several challenges and opportunities have presented themselves to the pharmaceutical industry in recent years, many of which arose from trends that have emerged in the global healthcare scene. An important one is the increasing pricing pressures under which pharmaceutical companies have to operate as governments worldwide grapple with rapidly rising healthcare costs. On the other hand, a more price conscious market environment has been a boon to companies that produce generics and biosimilars, which offer tried-and-tested alternatives at lower prices.

Another trend is that developing countries are becoming important markets for pharmaceutical companies. Emerging economies, such as those in Asia, have developed significantly over time. Their pharmaceutical markets have grown and are increasingly attractive to MNC pharmaceutical companies seeking to expand sales, while at the same time fueling the growth of domestic pharmaceutical firms. Furthermore, the maturation of these markets has strengthened demand for more innovative therapies and medicines, which tend to have more sophisticated production processes.

To remain competitive is this complex and dynamic market, pharmaceutical manufacturers are adapting their business and operations in different ways. For instance, some firms have responded to pricing pressures by tweaking their business models, forming strategic partnerships, or adopting new manufacturing technologies. Furthermore, to gain access to emerging markets in Asia, some companies are enlarging their manufacturing footprint in Asia. In a similar way, the local pharma supporting industry must evolve in tandem and continue to stay ahead of the game to remain relevant. In addition, the growth of the Asian market gives local firms a chance to use Singapore as the launchpad to capture business opportunities in the region.

Singapore is well recognised for its support of the pharmaceutical industry. It already hosts some of the top global pharmaceutical companies in the world and is committed to continually develop the capabilities of the local industry, in the areas of R&D and manufacturing. In particular, Singapore invests heavily to groom a well-educated workforce that has the relevant expertise to support pharmaceutical manufacturing. Various programmes are in place to provide training and skill upgrading of the local manpower pool, allowing it to stay relevant as the global pharmaceutical industry evolves and as newer and more advanced manufacturing technologies are introduced.

The ISPE (International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering) is a global organisation that aims to facilitate the development of next generation process technologies and innovative pharmaceutical manufacturing solutions. The Singapore chapter of ISPE was established in 2000 and bears witness to the growth of the local pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. Through its various training courses, conferences and industry initiatives, ISPE has been an active participant to the development of the local pharmaceutical industry and has helped build up the local pharmaceutical eco-system. Like the Singapore government, ISPE recognises that the key to Singapore’s premier position as a nucleus of pharmaceutical manufacturing activity in Asia lies in its industry’s ability to continually assimilate new manufacturing technologies and more importantly, for its workforce to be able to deploy them rapidly and effectively. As such, ISPE Singapore aims to be an industry champion and will continue its efforts to help advance the capabilities of Singapore’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, ultimately for the benefit of patients worldwide.

Contributed by:
Geoffrey Brown
President, ISPE Singapore Affiliate