BioNTech to set up regional HQ, vaccine plant here

BioNTech SE, the vaccine maker that partnered Pfizer to produce the widely used Covid-19 shot, will be designating Singapore as its regional headquarters for South-east Asia.

It also plans to set up a messenger RNA (mRNA) manufacturing facility here, which can be used to produce the vaccine.

BioNTech aims to open its Singapore office and start the construction of the manufacturing facility this year, subject to planning approval.

The site is expected to be operational in 2023 and will create at least 80 jobs, the German company said yesterday.

These include roles in quality control, quality assurance and management. It added that the expansion plan is supported by Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB).

BioNTech chief executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin told reporters in a virtual press conference yesterday that establishing a manufacturing hub in Singapore will mean that "a certain percentage (of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured) will go to Singapore".

He also said: "But we have to be clear that starting a manufacturing building in Singapore will not help us in the next 12 months with regard to the global supply (of the Covid-19 vaccine).

"The global supply can be addressed only by increasing the existing production capacities. We did that and they will continue to do that in the next 12 months."

The plan is to deliver up to three billion doses this year, together with Pfizer - more than 50 per cent higher than initially announced. Over 40 per cent will be supplied to low-and middle-income countries, Dr Sahin added.

The surge in global demand for the vaccine has seen more manufacturing sites set up in countries such as Germany and Belgium, as well as the United States.

Demand has outstripped supply in almost every country.

Across the world, over one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and BioNTech chief executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin in a virtual media conference yesterday. Mr Chan said the vaccine maker's venture in Singapore will be a boost to the biopharmaceutical sector here.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and BioNTech chief executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin in a virtual media conference yesterday. Mr Chan said the vaccine maker's venture in Singapore will be a boost to the biopharmaceutical sector here. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF TRADE AND INDUSTRY

The World Health Organisation has said the world is in a "vaccine crisis", calling on the Group of Seven countries to fund the global Covid-19 recovery and ensure most adults around the world get immunised.

Dr Sahin also said that BioNTech is in discussions on whether to acquire an existing building or build new infrastructure to house the new manufacturing facility.

In response to questions on the value of the investment in Singapore, he said it is "in the range of hundreds of millions of US dollars".

He added: "We're looking at this as a long-term investment in biotech in Singapore... It extends beyond Covid-19.

"Our hope here is that we can establish both a regional and even potentially global supply for a range of different vaccines and therapies based in Singapore."

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who also participated in the Web conference, said the venture will be a boost to the biopharmaceutical sector here.

"Every significant investment that we attract into Singapore will certainly strengthen the overall ecosystem within Singapore, because this will enable us to grow our talent pool - from management to production control and quality assurance," said Mr Chan.

The new facility will use cutting-edge manufacturing and digital infrastructure, and will be equipped to produce a range of novel mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases and cancer, said BioNTech.

The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is based on mRNA technology, which uses a chemical messenger to instruct cells to make proteins that mimic the outer surface of the coronavirus, which the immune system learns to recognise as a foreign invader and mounts a defence against.

mRNA relies on synthetic genes that can be generated and manufactured in weeks, and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines.

EDB chairman Beh Swan Gin said the investment will enable Singapore to "develop capabilities in an important new therapeutic modality".

"In particular, BioNTech's mRNA manufacturing facility will contribute significantly to the region's ability to address future pandemic threats."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2021, with the headline 'BioNTech to set up regional HQ, vaccine plant here'. Subscribe