Pandemic powering demand for Singapore's pharma exports

Singapore's focus on pharmaceuticals is paying dividends as demand for its exports is boosted by the global stockpiling of medicine and drug ingredients. The Republic's exports and output of pharmaceutical products have surged, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, Fitch Solutions said in a report yesterday.

It quoted Mr How Ti Hwei, former president of the Singapore Association of Pharmaceutical Industries, as saying: "Companies and governments around the world are building large inventories of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and drugs to ensure supplies of medicine remain uninterrupted and can be made close to market."

Pfizer Inc, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical firms, recently stated it had witnessed a tremendous increase in demand for anti-infectives, Fitch Solutions said.

Singapore is one of the global locations where Pfizer and several other multinational companies produce anti-infectives - medicine used to prevent or treat antibacterial and antiviral infections.

More than 50 pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, including plants owned by eight of the world's 10 biggest pharmaceutical firms, are located here, making various drugs and APIs.

The United States, Europe and Japan were Singapore's top API export destinations in recent months.

"Pharmaceutical production and exports will be a boon for Singapore's overall manufacturing and trade environment," the report said. Singapore's biomedical industry employs more than 24,000 people and last year accounted for about 20 per cent of the manufacturing sector, which in turn represents about a fifth of the nation's gross domestic product, it added.

According to Singapore's Economic Development Board, while overall manufacturing shrank 0.7 per cent year on year in the second quarter of this year - due mainly to the circuit breaker measures and weak external demand caused by the pandemic - the biomedical cluster expanded 10.6 per cent.

Biomedical manufacturing was the best-performing manufacturing cluster for the year to last month, growing 19.4 per cent.

Trade promotion agency Enterprise Singapore earlier this month upgraded its full-year forecast for non-oil domestic exports amid the better-than-expected performance for specific products, including pharmaceuticals.

Fitch Solutions said Singapore is one of the few countries that have a positive pharmaceutical trade balance. Last year, it exported US$8.1 billion (S$11 billion) worth of medicine, with Switzerland, the Netherlands and the US among top destinations. During the same year, the Republic imported US$3.1 billion worth of pharmaceuticals, mainly from the US, France and Germany.

Singapore has been working to make the country an attractive location for innovative pharmaceutical research and development.

The Experimental Drug Development Centre (EDDC) was established last year as a result of the integration of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's drug discovery and development units, namely the Experimental Therapeutics Centre; Drug, Discovery and Development; and Experimental Biotherapeutics Centre.

Fitch Solutions said: "It is hoped that EDDC can better coordinate public-private partnerships in Singapore's drug development ecosystem and allow industry partners greater ability to translate discoveries into new medicine."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2020, with the headline Pandemic powering demand for Singapore's pharma exports. Subscribe