An essential and complete guide for the biotechnology companies operating in Singapore.

Industry Articles

Overview of the Singapore PharmBio Sector

SGBIO2122_ED03-Pix01Singapore has established itself to be a leading hub for manufacturing, research and development (“R&D”) and commercial operations in the region. This strong growth is achieved through an ecosystem of strong government policies and processes, continued public investments in R&D, excellent track record of quality and regulatory compliance, and strong connectivity to the world.

Today, the pharmaceutical sector remains a strong pillar in Singapore’s economy, contributing approximately 5% of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”). With four of the top 10 prescription drugs by global revenue being manufactured here, this sector produced S$19 billion worth of therapies for global markets in 2018. The pharmaceutical sector is also a significant employer in Singapore with a 7,900-strong workforce, consisting primarily of highly-skilled workers.

Singapore is home to many best-in-class manufacturing facilities, where a wide range of products across small molecules, biologics, cell therapy and medical nutrition, are launched and produced. Eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline (“GSK”), Merck Sharp & Dohme (“MSD”), Pfizer, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi, AbbVie and Amgen have a manufacturing presence in Singapore.

Singapore has invested heavily in building up the relevant infrastructure to support pharmaceutical companies in the setting up of their manufacturing activities in Singapore through ready-built facilities and innovative partnerships.

For example, ready-built facilities such as the JTC Space @ Tuas Biomedical Park provide industrial and laboratory space for pharmaceutical companies, which can be fitted out for single-use technology (“SUT”) manufacturing platforms. This allows companies to set up their manufacturing lines quickly at a much smaller upfront capital cost. Basic infrastructure such as road networks and utilities in Tuas Biomedical Park (“TBP”) have also been set up to accelerate set-up times for pharmaceutical companies. Today, TBP houses almost 31 manufacturing plants in its vicinity1.

To develop flexible capacity options, the Singapore government has partnered with contract manufacturing organisations (“CMOs”) and contract development and manufacturing organisations (“CDMOs”), such as Lonza, Cellvec and ESCO Aster. Through these partnerships, CMOs and CDMOs in Singapore are able to expand their capacity for commercial and clinical-scale production, as well as for new modalities, such as cell and gene therapy, for pharmaceutical companies who wish to outsource their manufacturing needs.

In addition, Singapore has worked actively with partners to ensure a reliable and supportive ecosystem for pharmaceutical manufacturing. In September 2018, Merck KGaA (“Merck”), opened a new 3,800-square-meter biosafety laboratory in Singapore that offers clinical testing services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for their biological drug products. The S$20 million investment is Merck’s first BioReliance laboratory in Asia Pacific. This is a significant move for the pharmaceutical sector as most analytical testing facilities today are located in either Europe or the U.S., with limited providers in Asia to serve the analytical testing needs of pharmaceutical companies in the region. The opening of the BioReliance laboratory in Singapore has helped to plug this important gap in Asia by allowing companies to quickly test their biological samples for release to the regional market, hence, enabling them to better serve the needs of their customers in Asia2.

Singapore continues to prioritise the development of a highly-skilled workforce with industry-relevant skills for the pharmaceutical sector. This is executed by ensuring a future-ready workforce through skills mastery and life-long learning, as well as building a strong pipeline of fresh graduates with industry-ready experience and capabilities.

To equip Singapore’s workforce with the right skills required by the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, the Singapore government has introduced the Professional Conversion Programme (“PCP”). This programme provides Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (“PMETs”) with the opportunity to be re-skilled and potentially take on a new career in the pharmaceutical sector. To date, more than 400 PMETs have been trained since its introduction in 20143.

In addition to developing technical capabilities, the Singapore government also places an emphasis on building a strong pipeline of leaders for the biopharmaceutical sector. In March 2019, EDB, in partnership with the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Advisory Council, launched a leadership training workshop for middle and senior managers in the biomedical sciences industry. Known as Project Zodiac, the workshop aims to help these managers develop self-awareness, adaptive skills, and leadership skills, such as effective communication and problem solving. Today, Project Zodiac has trained about 100 mid-management professionals, with 100 more employees expected to enrol by the end of the year4.

Singapore has also made significant investments to ensure that graduates from local universities have the relevant skill sets for pharmaceutical manufacturing. For example, a talent development programme aimed at building up a pipeline of skilled manpower for the pharmaceutical sector is the Attach and Train (“AnT”) Programme. Through the AnT programme, trainees undergo on-the-job training with leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Lonza and Amgen, to deepen their technical competencies. Since its introduction in 2015, AnT continues to see strong uptake by pharmaceutical companies with more than 170 training places filled to date5.

Advanced Manufacturing
Building upon its strong base of existing operations, Singapore has been encouraging companies to transform existing plants with advanced manufacturing and digital solutions to ensure long-term sustainability. Advanced manufacturing is a priority for Singapore, and significant investments have been made in this area to transform Singapore’s manufacturing landscape. In July 2019, GSK opened its new S$130 million pharmaceutical manufacturing facility at Pioneer, developed as part of the GSK-Economic Development Board 10-year Singapore Manufacturing Roadmap. The plant employs state-of-the-art technology that enables continuous manufacturing instead of the usual batch production. This investment demonstrates GSK’s commitment to Singapore as a key manufacturing and supply site for GSK’s global pharmaceutical business and a testbed for advanced manufacturing technology.

In October 2019, Singapore hosted the second edition of the Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific (“ITAP”) conference. ITAP, the Asian edition of Hannover Messe, brought together manufacturers, technology providers and thought leaders to showcase latest advanced manufacturing technologies and exchange best practices. In 2017, Singapore launched the Smart Industry Readiness Index (“SIRI”) to help companies start, scale and sustain their i4.0 transformation initiatives. One example of a company that has benefited from the SIRI assessment is Amgen. At ITAP this year, Amgen shared about their experience of using the SIRI assessment to identify areas that helped them further optimise their manufacturing operations through the use of process analytic technology (“PAT”).

In 2017, the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (“PIPS”) – a partnership between GSK, MSD and Pfizer was launched. The consortium has been working on more than 10 different projects to transform small molecule manufacturing operations and technologies for greater efficiencies. Some of the areas being explored under PIPS include bio-catalysis, continuous manufacturing, advanced process control, digitalisation, and enhanced pharmaceutical operations. Due to the success of PIPS, there are plans to expand this initiative to other modalities such as biologics manufacturing.

To develop a globally competitive and innovative biomedical sector, Singapore is also building on the base of Big Pharma companies to grow the biotech community through financing and commercialisation interventions. Through these interventions, Singapore aims to foster greater collaborations across public and private stakeholders and drive more innovative drug development outcomes.

As of 2019, there are more than 350 biotechnology and medical technology companies in Singapore. This pool of Singapore-based companies continues to grow and mature across various therapeutic areas such as oncology and infectious diseases. For example, in 2018, MediSix Therapeutics, a Singapore-based immune engineering biotechnology firm, successfully raised US$20 million in Series A funding as led by Lightstone Ventures, Temasek Holdings and Osage University Partners. Founded by Professor Dario Campana, a known leader in the field of cancer therapies and immunotherapies, MediSix has since used the financing to build its team in Singapore, advance product development, and initiate pre-clinical studies. In the same year, Veredus Laboratory, a Singaporean molecular diagnostics kit maker, was acquired by Japanese diagnostics company, Sekisui Medical, for an estimated US$83 million.

To support Singapore-based biotechs in their commercialisation efforts, the Singapore government set up the National Research Fund (“NRF”)-Temasek IP commercialisation vehicle in 2018. The vehicle co-invests in start-ups, whose business models are underpinned by IP generated from publicly-funded research. NRF and Temasek have each committed S$50 million to co-invest in Singapore-based early-stage high-tech companies, including biotech start-ups. The Diagnostics Development Hub (“DxD Hub”) by A*ccelerate (commercialisation arm of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (“A*STAR”)) also helps organisations to accelerate the transformation of IPs into clinically-validated diagnostic devices by bringing together expertise from different stakeholders. To date, the DxD Hub has successfully formed collaborations between healthcare communities, like SingHealth and the National Healthcare Group, and academic research organisations, like the Singapore Clinical Research Institute. For example, MiRXES, a Singapore-based biotechnology firm spun-off from A*STAR, has worked closely with partners within the DxD Hub to develop and commercialise an early blood-based diagnostic platform that detects various cancers, including breast and gastric cancer. These partners include the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium that has helped MiRXES to deliver their lab research to clinicians and doctors.

Cell and Gene Therapy (“C&GT”), a growing modality that promises curative treatments, continues to gain prominence after recent FDA approvals of CAR T-cell therapies – Kymriah and Yescarta, and gene therapies – Luxturna and Zolgensma. To ensure that Singapore is able to capitalise on opportunities from C&GT, the government has invested SS$80 million to establish three manufacturing technology research programmes. These programmes aim to deepen the understanding of cell attributes relating to safety and efficacy, and develop technology to assess product quality during manufacturing.

A supportive regulatory environment is vital for the introduction of new C&GT products. Hence, Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (“HSA”) set up an innovation office in 2018 that provides scientific and regulatory advice for early stage clinical product development of innovative therapies.

Against the backdrop of rising healthcare costs and an ageing population, the advent of digital technology offers the potential to solve the challenges aforementioned, while increasing healthcare access to a wider group of patients. From a health impact standpoint, digital health has the potential to enable a future that is (i) more scalable, yet consumer centric and personalised, (ii) powered by deeper insights about health and disease through better data, and (iii) more holistic and effective across the entire healthcare continuum. From an economic standpoint, the rise of digital health is also a tremendous growth opportunity. Global venture capital investments into digital health hit an all-time high of US$14.6 billion in 2018, marking eight years of consecutive growth. The sector is drawing the participation of not just start-ups but also some of the biggest players in healthcare, technology, consumer and insurance, such as Novartis, Google, Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Grab, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Prudential. This has spawned a sprawling industry that is estimated to be worth half a trillion dollars by 2025.

In Singapore, we have seen the growth of a sizeable digital health sector that comprises close to 250 companies today and employs more than 2,200 people. Singapore has leveraged the inherent strengths of its public innovation and healthcare systems, as well as the wide breadth and depth of existing industry sectors to drive the growth of its digital health ecosystem.

Singapore’s public healthcare system is also pioneering patient-centred digital innovation by working with the private sector. Through these collaborations, companies will be able to innovate and commercialise their solutions for clinical needs across the Asian markets, starting with Singapore. For example, the Singapore Health Promotion Board recently announced a partnership with FitBit for its new Live Healthy Singapore initiative. The program is aimed at capturing data to obtain behavioural insights, while also utilising digital coaching approaches to nudge Singaporeans towards a healthier lifestyle.

The biopharmaceutical industry remains an important economic pillar that Singapore will continue to invest in. As new modalities, manufacturing technologies and healthcare delivery methods emerge, Singapore will work with its academic and industry partners to build up the ecosystem and ensure that Singapore remains a competitive and trusted location for the industry.

Goh Wan Yee
Executive Director, Healthcare
Singapore Economic Development Board

1 Source: Straits Times, “Biopharmaceutical giant Merck opens $20 million lab in Singapore”, September 2018

2 Source: The Straits Times, “Biopharmaceutical giant Merck opens $20 million lab in Singapore”, September 2018

3 Source: EDB – Scientific American write-up, “Future-Proofed Pharma”, June 2018

4 Source: The Straits Times, “Building leadership, digital skills in biomedical sciences sector”, September 2019

5 Source: EDB – Scientific American write-up, “Future-Proofed Pharma”, June 2018