Singapore scored another big win last week as Abbott launched its first Asian Nutrition Pilot Plant in the country’s Tuas South complex. The $24 million facility is the company’s second R&D hub outside the U.S. and the first in Asia.
This facility is a string in a long line of biomedical companies that are operating in Singapore. To find out the reasons behind this growth IndustryWeek talked to Kevin Lai, executive director, Biomedical Sciences and Consumer Businesses at the Singapore Economic Development Board.
Q: Another biotech company, Amgen, cited the country’s “rich talent pool and friendly business environment,” as part of the reason for locating in Singapore. Can you explains provide some background for this?
A: Attracted by the excellent physical and regulatory infrastructure, global connectivity and skilled manpower available in Singapore, many leading biopharmaceutical companies (including Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis) have chosen to make Singapore their global manufacturing base. These companies operate multi-purpose plants with the capability to manufacture a wide range of active biopharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), biologics and nutritionals.
Singapore has seen significant growth in the biopharmaceuticals sector over recent years as well. In less than 7 years, Singapore has become home to 9 biologics manufacturing facilities, including 3 latest investments by collectively, these biologics plants represent approximately S$2.4 billion in total investments and employ 1,700 people. Over the next 3 to 4 years, the burgeoning biologics industry is expected to create an additional 700 to 1000 jobs in Singapore.
We have taken a proactive role in attracting key talent for our biologics sector. Our journey can be summarized in three words – “Dream, Design and Deliver”, which reflects our effort n thinking ahead about what the industry needs and how we can best support the needs of the sector.
Dream – We noted the trend of the increasing importance of biologics in early 2000s and knew that it would be an important sector for us. We thus prioritized the need for top biologics talent and began playing a key role in facilitating top talent for the industry.
Design – We thus played a key role in brokering partnerships with companies like Lonza, one of the leaders in the sector, who were ready to act as an enabler for our industry. Other initiatives included sending Singaporeans overseas for training in advance through our training programs.
Deliver - Today, we have a strong pipeline of investments and the focus is on ensuring that we can help companies ramp-up their operations effectively.
Some specific workforce programs include:
Singapore’s Workforce Development Authority (WDA) rolled out the Development and Apprenticeship (DNA) program to support the costs of trainees undergoing local On-the-Job training in the industry (more than 100 trainees have been trained or undergoing training thus far). In the first phase of the DNA Program, over 300 places have been committed to biopharmaceutical manufacturing, of which, over 70% of the slots have been filled.
A new training program, Biologics Overseas Skills Training (BOOST), aims to build up a buffer pool of talent in anticipation of future demand for the biologics industry. The BOOST program will train 150 specialists over 3 years in WSQ certified biologics modules coupled with structured overseas work attachments.
Q: What is the relationship between government organizations and industry?
A: Singapore continues to work closely with industry partners and other government agency to develop and implement manpower initiatives to support the biopharmaceuticals industry in Singapore. The Sectoral Manpower Development Fund (SMDP) for the Biologics Manufacturing industry is a clear example of our commitment to talent development. The SMDP collaborates with a variety of organizations has the support of industry players including Abbvie, Amgen, Baxter, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, Novartis and Roche.
Industry players have also leveraged Singapore’s ecosystem to develop healthcare solutioning platforms which aim to develop holistic solutions beyond individual products (e.g. Philips). This is another area that we have identified early-on.
One example would be in September 2013, when Philips announced the launch of its APAC Hospital-to-Home (H2H) business unit in Singapore. It illustrates how the industry is evolving to help health systems in Asia to address the growing challenges linked to a fast growing and aging population. Through healthcare innovation, Philips’ H2H business will seek to improve care transitions by offering re-admission management consulting, telehealth solutions for greater care continuity, and a personal health portal to engage patients and their families in their own health.
In the Asia Pacific region, Singapore is seen as a reference site for its healthcare system and a strong house in ICT capabilities, and therefore an ideal location to establish the regional headquarters for this new business. Together with our local stakeholders, Philips will co-innovate and develop patient care models in Singapore to be marketed and exported to the rest of Asia that will enhance patient outcomes beyond hospital care.
EDB continues to see interest from companies to collaborate and conduct R&D in Singapore given our strong scientific capabilities and the growth of the Asian market. For example, in 2012 Chugai set up S$200 million Chugai Pharmabody Research (CPR) lab dedicated to antibody engineering, and in 2013 Bayer, in conjunction with several other local research institutions, established an Integrated Translational Oncology Network to further enhance R&D in Asian prevalent cancers.
Chugai also just announced at its annual media conference last week that it will expand its the business plan and invest S$476 million in total from 2012 to 2021 into its Singapore research institute - Chugai Pharmabody Research Pte. Ltd. (CPR). Based on this business expansion with over 100 employees by the end of 2016 and expanded spaces, Chugai further aims to accelerate development of new therapeutic antibodies by novel technologies currently being built up, while continuing to work on R&D activities with established antibody engineering technologies.
Q: It has been said that Singapore has become “something of a compliance hub for the region” due to its high ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Index.
A: With its high ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Index and stringent implementation of laws in place, Singapore has strong and high compliance standards, as some of the world’s best facilities ensure top standards for compliance as part of their operations. To date, all biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities that have commenced commercial operations have received validation from international regulators such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA). In fact, for the biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector, Singapore has noted zero observations from global regulatory agencies.
Trust and compliance are very important for biomedical sciences companies especially when venturing into less familiar Asian markets. With key decision makers that determine overall corporate strategy based in HQ, the location in which it is anchored has to be trusted. Singapore offers companies a neutral and trusted location to orchestrate and grow their business operations in multiple Asian markets (i.e. strong IP rights, integrity, and quality). On the back of increased scrutiny of the biopharmaceutical industry in Asia (e.g. China), a growing number of pharma companies have established compliance teams and functions for the region based in Singapore.
The launch of the Centre of Regulatory Excellence (CoRE) at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore is a good example of regulatory excellence being well-established in Singapore. CoRE is the first-in-Asia dedicated center for regulatory excellence targeted at both regulators and industry. Its goals are to establish regional platforms and collaborations between industry and regulators in regulatory talent development and regulatory science/policy. In the long run, it is envisioned that CoRE will establish Singapore’s position as a regional regulatory thought leader and enhance the environment in Asia for the innovation and commercialization of new healthcare products/technologies to address its growing healthcare needs.
To foster greater understanding of regulatory eco‐systems and encourage policy innovation, the Centre will also organize executive workshops and scientific seminars that stimulate the exchange of ideas and discussion on key issues across the regulatory landscape in Asia. These include current topics like the regulation of mobile health applications, adaptive licensing for expedited approvals, and personalized medicines. The Centre aims to build regional networks to promote greater collaboration and convergence in regulatory policy development and best practices in regulatory science.