Emerging biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector to add more than 300 new jobs

The biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector is expected to create more than 300 jobs over the next three years, Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister S. Iswaran said at a plant opening on Wednesday (Sept 28).

Mr Iswaran was opening a new US$320-million plant of global biopharmaceutical firm AbbVie at Tuas Biomedical Park. It is New York-listed AbbVie's first manufacturing facility in Asia.

He noted that employment in the sector has more than tripled in 15 years.

Biopharmaceutical firms employed a total of 6,000 workers last year up from 1,900 in the year 2000.

Mr Iswaran said 80 per cent of employment went to Singaporeans. The average annual pay packet, he added, was around S$102,000 in 2015.

He said the manufacturing sector also offers opportunities for job seekers who wish to reskill themselves. They can tap the government-sponsored Professional Conversion Programmes which include the Biologics Overseas Skills Training (Boost) programme.

Since 2014, he said the Economic Developmsnt Board, Workforce Development Agency, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic have created close to 700 training positions for Singaporeans to prepare them for new job opportunities through talent development programmes.

Roche, Lonza, Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline have participated in these programmes to provide on-the-job training in their biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in Singapore and overseas.

Mr Iswaran said the Government will continue to invest in innovation as an important growth engine for Singapore's economy.

Through the Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 programme, he said the Government will invest S$19 billion over the next five years across various domains, including advanced manufacturing and engineering, and health and biomedical sciences.

"We will invest resources in developing new manufacturing technologies and capabilities that will enable companies to introduce new products as well as new therapeutic modalities, such as cell therapy and antibody drug conjugates," said Mr Iswaran.

"By leveraging new technologies and capabilities, companies can also achieve increased productivity, higher asset utilisation and reduced costs."

Mr Iswaran said manufacturing is a key pillar of Singapore's economy, contributing 20 per cent of economic output in 2015.

The biomedical manufacturing cluster makes up the second-largest contributor to the country's manufacturing sector, accounting close to 20 per cent. Singapore's manufacturing output has more than quadrupled from $6.3 billion in 2000 to around $27 billion in 2014.

Mr Iswaran said the Government will nurture innovation in manufacturing technologies, develop infrastructural solutions, and build a strong talent pool.

Biotechnologist Lee Teck Heng, 46, who graduated from Boost, joined AbbVie in March this year.

A former stockbroker with a local securities firm for 21 years, Mr Lee decided to make a career switch to the pharmaceutical industry two years ago.

He realised that the digital transformation of the financial sector would lead to more computerisation of data analytics and less reliance on labour. So he re-trained in biotech at Temasek Polytechnic on a three-month academic course under Boost which was followed by a one-year practical training at Lonza's facility in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the United States.

"It was a great experience for me to learn about a new industry," said Mr Lee.

"I can now now operate production equipment and use my previous skills in financial planning and apply them to my production scheduling duties in my new job."