Despite its small population of 5.6 million, Singapore is a key drug market for Western pharmaceutical companies. Singapore’s pharmaceutical market is currently estimated to be about $820 million. It is expected to grow at a steady rate of 6% in 2017, compared to the 5% average growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Singapore has also emerged as one of the most integrated and advanced hubs for pharmaceutical manufacturing and research in Southeast Asia. The country’s healthcare system was ranked second in the world by the Bloomberg Healthcare Efficiency Index in 2014, only behind Hong Kong. Singapore’s pharmaceutical industry is regulated by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) and the Health Products Act 2007, which includes all medical devices, pharmaceuticals, medicines and other supplements.
The Foreign Private Sector
Singapore currently hosts more than 50 international biomedical science companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Takeda, Pfizer, Novartis and Roche. As a result of Singapore’s robust infrastructure, intellectual property (IP) protection, access to regional markets and skilled workforce, many leading biomedical companies have selected Singapore as their global manufacturing base.
In September 2016, AbbVie (Chicago, IL) completed a new API plant for oncology and women’s health in the Tuas Biomedical Park. It is the first step of a larger $320 million and 1,300,000 square feet manufacturing facility set to be completed in 2018. According to Weng Si Ho, the Director of Biomedical Sciences in the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), Singapore has a “track record of providing a world-class business environment and skilled talent pool to companies,” and “enable companies such as AbbVie to develop and manufacture innovative products to deliver value for patients worldwide.”
In December 2016, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer (New York, NY) opened a new Manufacturing Technology Development Center in Tuas that would host 500 employees. The center is collaborating with the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences as well as other public institutions to develop chemical and engineering solutions.
In March 2016, Ferring Pharmaceuticals (Saint-Prex, Switzerland) opened its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore to support its growing demands from Asia’s emerging pharmaceutical markets. Other international biomedical science companies such as Amgen, Baxter, Lonza and Novartis have also invested extensively in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Singapore.
With over fifty top global biomedical science firms and thirty public research institutes, Singapore aims to create a biomedical “ecosystem” that concentrates infrastructure and technology to establish a multitude of capabilities in a single location. Currently, Singapore has developed two biomedical “hubs” – first, the Biopolis, which facilitates the cooperation between public sector research centers with private labs, and second, the Tuas Biomedical Park, which is dedicated primarily to pharmaceutical manufacturing and production.
Singapore has established strong biomedical infrastructure through creating over 30 public sector research institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the Ministry of Health (MOH). Most prominently, A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) oversees 10 research institutes. These include the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, one of Singapore’s earliest research institutes on disease pathways and collaborators with industry, as well as more recent institutes such as the Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI), Institute of Medical Biology (IMB), the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBC) and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS). Currently, these institutes are focusing on research in cancer, eye diseases, infectious diseases, metabolic diseases and neurological diseases.
Singapore has also provided a number of grants and tax incentives to attract international pharmaceutical companies to establish manufacturing and R&D bases in the country. Grants and initiatives include:
- The Research Incentive Scheme for Companies (RISC), which supports projects in the areas of science and technology through the development of research and technological capabilities;
- The Competitive Research Programme (CPR), a funding scheme for the identification of new research areas.
Private-Public Partnerships on R&D and Clinical Trials
Many foreign pharmaceutical firms have also been involved in private-public partnerships in Singapore, particularly with R&D and clinical trials. The Contract Research Organization (CRO) market in Asia is expected to grow at a rate of 20% in 2017, with Singapore’s A*STAR leading some of the clinical growth. Established R&D partnerships in Singapore include Roche’s (Basel, Switzerland) Singapore Hub for Translational Medicine, GlaxoSmithKline’s (Brentford, UK) Academic Centre of Excellence, and Bayer Healthcare’s (Leverkusen, Germany) partnership with the Singapore National Eye Center (SNEC).
In July 2016, Merck (Kenilworth, NJ) established a two-year collaboration to develop a marketable therapeutic peptide drug with A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute. The therapeutic peptide market is set to grow at 4% annually in the Asia-Pacific for the next decade, and is estimated to be worth $20 billion globally by 2020. In May 2015, Visterra (Cambridge, MA) partnered with A*STAR’s Drug Discovery & Development (D3) to develop VIS513, a pharmaceutical drug to treat dengue fever.
The Singaporean government is also continuing to provide large investments in its research and development capabilities to place the country at the forefront of medical innovation and production. In the past 25 years, the National Research Foundation has spent $29 billion on research and development, and has set aside a $13 billion budget for 2016-2020. At a time when international biomedical R&D in North America and Europe is undergoing slow growth and restructuring, Singapore’s pharmaceutical industry has sustained growth and continues to offer foreign drug companies with attractive options.