Work begins on vaccine maker Hilleman's new manufacturing plant in Depot Road

Hilleman is one of several major vaccine manufacturers to have set up shop in Singapore since the start of the pandemic. PHOTO: HILLEMAN LABORATORIES

SINGAPORE - Work has started on Hilleman Laboratories' new vaccine manufacturing facility in Depot Road, which has been designed to produce vaccines for Singapore's use in any future pandemic.

The 30,000 sq ft facility, at which a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony was held on Tuesday (Feb 22), is expected to be fully operational by early next year.

Hilleman is one of several major vaccine manufacturers to set up shop in Singapore since the start of the pandemic, following extensive efforts by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to draw such firms here.

Others include French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur and German company BioNTech, which developed a widely used Covid-19 vaccine in tandem with Pfizer of the United States.

Hilleman Laboratories, which has a separate research and development facility in Biopolis, plans to hire up to 50 scientists, engineers and managers locally.

Both facilities together form an $80 million hub for the development of vaccines and biological drugs, where new products can be conceptualised and brought to the market.

The firm is also working with local universities to attract young talent for internships and similar opportunities, said chief executive Raman Rao.

"Ultimately, we hope they will be able to learn the technologies and put them to use here, or they could go into Singapore's system," Dr Rao said.

The India-based Hilleman Laboratories was set up in 2009 as part of a joint venture between pharmaceutical firm MSD and the Wellcome Trust, a charitable foundation.

Its new facility in Singapore is a welcome addition to the country's healthcare system, and is in line with efforts to strengthen capabilities across the biopharmaceutical manufacturing value chain, said Ms Goh Wan Yee, senior vice-president of healthcare at EDB.

"With its focus on early clinical development of vaccines and biologics for diseases that exert a heavy burden globally, the new facility will enhance Singapore's status as a global hub for biopharmaceutical manufacturing, and stand us in good stead to meet national needs during future pandemics," she said.

Should such a crisis hit, the new facility will be able to pivot to manufacturing vaccines for domestic use, Dr Rao added.

In other words, if Disease X - the code name for a future, unknown but highly infectious disease - were to strike, the Government could activate this facility to produce new vaccines that counteract it.

"There might be some work that will have been done already," Dr Rao said. "But you need to take that work and scale it up, and take it to a level where you can make enough doses that can be sustained for local use."

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