Archived news articles - 2007

The Business Times, 9 August 2007

Biologics – the next wave

Production of biopharmaceuticals is set to fuel growth in Singapore’s biomedical sciences manufacturing sector, as CHEN HUIFEN finds out.

SINGAPORE’S biomedical sciences (BMS) manufacturing sector looks set to reach its output target way ahead of time. Last year, the cluster posted a 30.2 per cent jump in production out-put to $23 billion - just a tad below the $25 billion mark that was set for 2015.
Value-added generated surged some 47 per cent to $13.6 billion and the level of fixed asset investment went up to $901 million last year, from $859.5 million in 2005. Back in 2000 when the BMS drive was launched, production output was just $6.4 billion and value add was $5.2 billion.

“Although the BMS initiative was started in 2000, the Economic Development Board had already been promoting BMS manufacturing opportunities for a while then,” said EDB executive director for biomedical sciences group Yeoh Keat Chuan. “The first company to set up manufacturing operations in Singapore was Beecham Pharmaceuticals in 1972. It was in the 1990s that many BMS companies made the decision to set up their plants in Singapore. These included Becton Dickinson, Baxter, GlaxoSmith-Kline (GSK), Merck, Pfizer, Schering Plough and Wyeth.”

Pharmaceutical manufacturing accounts for more than 90 per cent of both the output and value add in BMS manufacturing last year, with medical devices taking up the rest. Key to its phenomenal growth was the set up of the $67 million Tuas Biomedical Park (TBP). Launched in 2000, the 183-ha development was positioned as a world-class manufacturing hub dedicated to pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, biologics, vaccines and medical devices companies.

“EDB worked with JTC Corp to develop TBP as a plug-and-play environment for manufacturing operations, providing ready access to essential infrastructure such as roads, drainage systems, power and water supply, as well as telecommunication lines,” explained Mr Yeoh. “Manufacturers can also leverage on third-party utilities and services such as steam, natural gas, chilled water and waste treatment. Companies found it very easy to set up their operations here quickly.” To date, the island has already attracted eight of the world’s leading drug makers to base their production here. And the TBP has reached 90 per cent allocation, with a second 188-ha park being developed for future investments.

“Having established a reputation as one of the most competitive and trusted site for pharmaceutical bulk activities and secondary manufacturing, EDB is now aggressively pursuing investments in biologics, an area that will drive growth in the drug industry,” said Mr Yeoh. “We are quickly building critical mass for biologics manufacturing and expect to maintain this momentum as we continue to attract new investments in this area.”

Biologics – or biopharmaceuticals as they are sometimes known - are drugs made from living cells such as proteins and hormones. Unlike the oral pills which are made from synthetic chemicals, biologics today can be largely derived from either mammalian cells or microbial cells. They are larger molecules, and usually in liquid form, to be injected into the body. Some examples are insulin and other vaccines.

In keeping with the trend in the pharmaceutical industry, biologics are likely to fuel the growth in Singapore’s BMS manufacturing in future. With companies like Novartis and Roche taking an increasing interest in biologics firms and buying up vaccines and biotech companies, a significant proportion of future drugs is expected to come from biologics products.

According to EDB, about 30 per cent of the approved drugs in the US last year were biologics. A Datamonitor report forecasts that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is 13 per cent for biologics compared with a CAGR of 0.9 per cent for small molecule products (chemically synthesised medicines).

In addition, biologics products, being grown in specially engineered cells, are much tougher to produce. Focusing on the sector will raise the barriers for competing BMS manufacturing hubs because of the highly skilled manpower, stringent manufacturing standards and complexities involved in the production process.

To EDB’s credit, Singapore has attracted four major biologics investments totalling close to US$1 billion in the last two years. Swiss contract manufacturer Lonza is building two plants here, GSK is setting up a vaccine factory, and world leading biotech firm Genentech has recently broken ground for another to make blockbuster biologics. Should Singapore draw another one to two more this year, it would have created a critical mass for a budding industry.

Thus far, Singapore is believed to be the only country in the region to actively grow the biologics sector. It is relying on a track record for pharmaceutical manufacturing, availability of skilled talent, plug and play infrastructure and robust IP regime to sell itself as a biologics destination.

On top of that, it is building pockets of capabilities across the value chain in the biologics sector - from research to pilot-scale production, to commercial scale manufacturing. On the research end, there is the Bioprocessing Technology Institute under A*Star, which has close to 100 scientists conducting research in biologics. This provides a talent pool where the industry can tap. Singapore also boasts an established pool of more than 28,000 trained and experienced engineers and technicians from related industries such as food processing and chemicals manufacturing.

For smaller scale and test production, homegrown contract manufacturer A-Bio Pharma offers a facility that provides such services, while Lonza completes the picture for companies looking to outsource their requirements.

Clearly, biologics is set to drive the “next wave” of BMS investments, which will also include a greater focus on medical technology sector, especially in cardiovascular, vision, diagnostic and imaging, and research tools and scientific instruments.

“There are now close to 45 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices manufacturing plants in Singapore,” said Mr Yeoh. “But our job is never finished! We are constantly working with companies who are already here to expand their scale and scope of operations as well as to attract those who are not yet in Singapore. You can be sure that we will revise our (output and value add) targets once we reach them.”

Copyright @ 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.