Students, job seekers take part in virtual biopharma showcase held to attract locals to manufacturing

Since joining the biopharma industry in 2015, Mr Chia Renjie has seen how the industry has grown. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Close to 1,800 students and job seekers got a closer look at the fast-growing biopharma industry on Friday (May 14), as part of efforts to attract more Singaporeans to the sector.

Through a virtual exhibition, participants took part in tours of manufacturing facilities where they engaged with industry leaders.

The likes of multinational giants GSK, Pfizer Asia Manufacturing and Novartis Singapore Pharmaceutical Manufacturing were among the companies from the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers' Advisory Council (BMAC) which, along with industrial landlord JTC, organised Friday's virtual Biopharma Industry Day.

The biomedical cluster is key to Singapore's Manufacturing 2030 plan, which seeks to grow the manufacturing sector by 50 per cent in the next decade. Some 25,000 workers are employed in the sector, which contributed almost 18 per cent of the Republic's manufacturing gross domestic product in 2020.

The sector has a pipeline of good job opportunities, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a speech on Friday, noting that almost 800 openings were offered by more than 60 biomedical firms in the past 12 months. These are in roles such as biotechnologists, automation engineers and microbiologists to meet higher demand for new treatments such as cell therapy.

Among locals who are in the industry is Mr Chia Renjie, associate shift manager in downstream processing at Novartis, who works with his colleagues in purifying materials to produce the final drug substance.

Since joining the industry in 2015, the 33-year-old has seen how the industry has grown. He points to attach-and-train opportunities for university graduates and mid-career job seekers, as well as increased work experience opportunities in the sector as examples of greater awareness of the sector.

Lonza Singapore quality assurance specialist in cell and gene therapy Emily Tan, 28, said her job involves hands-on work such as planning product releases and reviewing manufacturing batch records.

"Knowing that my work has a direct impact on the lives of millions of patients gives me a good sense of accomplishment," she added.

Singapore has made good progress in developing capabilities and skills in the biopharma sector in the past decades, with more than 60 manufacturing facilities across a wide range of products, including drug products and bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients, said Mr Chan.

The 280-hectare Tuas Biomedical Park has about 7,000 employees across 13 global biopharma companies, with other large players such as Sanofi expected to enter.

Vaccine maker BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer on its coronavirus vaccine, is also setting up its regional headquarters and an mRNA manufacturing facility in Singapore.

The industrial park is expected to be enhanced this year, to make it more conducive for workers and firms alike.

JTC has partnered NParks and BMAC companies on a tree-planting initiative to enhance the estate greenery and environmental sustainability. The first phase of tree planting, which started in March, will be completed by July. More than $100,000 in donations from companies in the estate have been committed to the initiative so far.

Mr Chan highlighted that besides the large global players, Singapore also has an ecosystem of strong local enterprises which are pioneering developments in the biomedical space.

Pfizer Asia Manufacturing and Novartis Singapore Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

As an example, he cited biotech firm Hummingbird Bioscience, which is in the process of developing an antibody therapy to contribute to the medical options to combat Covid-19.

Efforts are ongoing to support local talent to capture opportunities in the growing biopharma manufacturing industry, the minister added, such as through professional conversion programmes.

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