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S’pore pharma firm pivots for pandemic success

Local pharmaceutical firm focuses on digitalisation and strategic expansion to make good business out of good health

Hyphens Pharma International chief exec Lim See Wah with Ceradan products
Under the leadership of chairman and chief executive Lim See Wah, Hyphens Pharma International has grown into a regional powerhouse, with well-known brands like Ceradan.PHOTO: HYPHENS PHARMA INTERNATIONAL

You’re familiar with a key pandemic mantra: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.

No soap and water? Use hand sanitisers. Want to avoid alcohol-based sanitisers because of dry skin or other conditions?

A local company has a solution: A lotion that combines alcohol and emollients to moisturise the skin while protecting against the coronavirus and harmful germs.

“Everyone should be washing and sanitising their hands regularly during this Covid-19 period, but frequent use of alcohol-based sanitisers can disrupt the skin’s defence barrier,” explains Mr Lim See Wah, 54, chairman and chief executive of Hyphens Pharma International.

Launched in June, the lotion is one of the company’s many products and innovations that has helped Hyphens Pharma grow and expand globally — even in a pandemic.

Adds Mr Lim, who graduated from the National University of Singapore with a degree in pharmacy: “We wanted to help people, especially those with dry and sensitive skin, better protect their hands.

“In fact, recognising the urgent need in the market (because of the pandemic), we got the product out six months after coming up with the idea, and it has been very well-received.”

Caring for people has been good business for Hyphens Pharma. The company’s well-known brands include its Ceradan skincare products, which focus on protecting the skin barrier, and the Ocean Health line of health supplements.

Under Mr Lim’s leadership, Hyphens Pharma has grown into a regional powerhouse, with offices in Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. It has 320 employees, and customers in 15 markets, including China, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Oman.

With the pandemic forcing many hospitals to postpone elective surgeries, Hyphens Pharma’s product sales were affected. But it has managed to overcome the setback by developing new products and focusing on digitalisation, among other things.

Its revenue grew by 3.6 per cent last year, and by 6.1 per cent in the first half of this year compared to the same period in 2020.

Driving growth through digitalisation

When it comes to digitalisation and e-commerce, Hyphens Pharma has been ahead of the curve.

In 2001, long before most companies were thinking of e-commerce’s possibilities, it created a website for clinics and pharmacies to buy its products online.

With telehealth on the rise, it also began work on an e-pharmacy in 2019. Doctors who offer virtual consultations can use it to send medicine to patients’ homes. More than 100 private clinics in Singapore have signed up since the service was launched in January.

“We took the time to build the physical facilities and digital infrastructure, and to ensure that we have the right processes to send the right medicine to the right patient at the right time, accompanied by the right information,” says Mr Lim.

Last December, it formed a 10-member digitalisation transformation team to develop plans and oversee projects. One example is its new enterprise resource planning system, which was rolled out in October.

The system digitalises purchase orders, invoices and receipts between Hyphens Pharma and its suppliers and customers, and automates crucial but laborious tasks, such as the logging of products’ batch numbers and expiry dates.

“We’ve saved about 10 to 20 per cent in manpower time and cost, minimised human errors and freed up our staff for more productive work,” says Mr Lim.

Global reach, local focus

With support from enterprise development agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG), Hyphens Pharma has expanded into new markets.

It appointed distributors in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Sri Lanka last year, and most recently, in South Korea. ESG’s overseas centre in Shanghai introduced it to Shanghai Good Luck International Trading, which has experience promoting products to healthcare professionals.

Hyphens Pharma also tailors its strategy to each market. “We’re focusing on expanding our Ceradan skincare products’ footprint in China because it is an enormous market, and many children there suffer from eczema,” Mr Lim says.

“South Korea, on the other hand, is a highly developed market for cosmetics, and we believe our TDF Fairence lightening cream will do well there. By distributing and marketing directly to doctors, particularly dermatologists, we can be in good stead among consumers.”

Looking ahead, Hyphens Pharma is collaborating with partners, some of whom were recommended by ESG, to broaden its range of offerings.

It is working with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, for example, on several projects to develop better hand creams for hand eczema patients.

As part of its growth strategy, Hyphens Pharma will continue to build on its digitalisation and expansion efforts.

His advice for other companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): “Look at your operations to see if you can enhance your productivity and customer satisfaction by adopting technologies, and come up with digitalisation plans aligned to your long-term goals.

“Many Singapore government agencies, including ESG, have schemes to help firms expand digitally and regionally. Use them. Develop new partnerships, enter new markets, and embark on innovative initiatives to increase your capabilities and capture new opportunities.”

Progressing through partnerships

When Hyphens Pharma was planning its integrated facility in Tai Seng in 2018, it worked with Republic Polytechnic (RP) and Singapore Polytechnic (SP) to optimise its warehouse and production.

RP’s Centre of Innovation (COI) for Supply Chain Management advised it on the warehouse’s layout. SP’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre helped in designing an automated packaging line.

ESG set up the centres as part of its initiative to co-create COIs with polytechnics and research institutes, and connected Hyphens Pharma to them after the firm reached out for assistance. There are nine COIs, each acting as a one-stop hub specialising in a different industry.

Mr Lim says that the centres’ help in boosting the warehouse’s productivity was invaluable.

With ESG’s Dubai overseas centre’s support, Hyphens Pharma also secured a partnership in 2018 to distribute its products in Oman.

This is the last of a six-part series titled "Keep Growing" in partnership with