Asia's search for a vaccine

Coronavirus: Biomedical manufacturing a bright spot for Singapore

A technician monitors the fully automated HIV drug Dolutegravir manufacturing process at the GlaxoSmithKline global manufacturing site in Jurong. PHOTO: GLAXOSMITHKLINE

Singapore's investments in biomedical sciences have paid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the biomedical manufacturing sector remaining a bright spot in a sluggish economy.

"The demand for healthcare products has not been affected and is generally quite resilient," said Ms Goh Wan Yee, senior vice-president of healthcare at the Economic Development Board (EDB).

EDB data out last month showed that biomedical manufacturing was the main bright spot in Singapore's factory production for April.

British giant GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) manufacturing facilities here focus on producing small molecules - or ingredients that go into the production of drugs - used for treating patients with respiratory diseases, human immunodeficiency virus and infections.

Mr Lim Hock Heng, vice-president and site director of the pharmaceutical supply chain at GSK Singapore, said: "Our output of small molecules during the Covid-19 period has been relatively constant."

The EDB remains optimistic about the growth potential of the biomedical sciences industry, said Ms Goh, pointing to how companies that have products addressing Covid-19 needs have seen a strong increase in global demand.

Take Thermo Fisher Scientific, which produces instruments and test kits used to diagnose infected patients around the world.

"The company is hiring for a variety of roles, including manu-facturing technicians, field service engineers, quality control, sourcing and procurement, to address this increase," said Ms Goh.

Mr Rajeev Nair, senior vice-president and head of Asia Pacific for research solutions in the life science business at biotechnology firm Merck, said the firm was supporting manufacturers with raw materials to produce viral transport mediums. These are used to collect swab samples and are in short supply.

He added: "We are also supporting scientists globally to accelerate the development of a vaccine against Covid-19 by supplying materials, solutions and bioprocessing manufacturing platforms."

Singapore is home to more than 50 leading biomedical sciences companies. Its strategic location in Asia Pacific, governmental commitment to growing the industry, skilled labour, stability, and strong capabilities in manufacturing and digital all play a role, they say.

GSK, for instance, has three facilities here, including Singapore's only vaccine manufacturing plant.

GSK's Mr Lim said its Jurong site is the firm's only new product introduction site for small molecules globally, and is where development and commercialisation of these new active pharmaceutical ingredients are carried out.

MSD president of Asia Pacific Dorthe Mikkelsen said Singapore plays a key role in advancing its research. "MSD also collaborates with various prestigious institutes such as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, leading research centres and local universities to explore new biopharmaceutical frontiers," she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Biomedical manufacturing a bright spot for Singapore. Subscribe