Pharma Focus Asia
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Singapore Surges Ahead

Dr BEH Swan Gin, Director Biomedical Sciences Group (Singapore)

Pharmaceutical manufacturing in Singapore is booming, with numerous leading drug manufacturers setting up their manufacturing bases there. Dr BEH Swan Gin, director of the Biomedical Sciences Group, reveals the secrets of its success.

Like Ireland and Puerto Rico, Singapore is a thriving location for pharmaceutical manufacturing with a proven track record. Companies with significant operations in Singapore include GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, Schering-Plough, Wyeth and Kaneka.

At the start of Singapore's Biomedical Sciences (BMS) initiative in mid-2000, the goal was to double the BMS industry's annual manufacturing output to reach S$12bn by 2005. By the end of 2004, the manufacturing output was already at S$15.8bn. The BMS industry's h3 performance in 2004 meant that the target was exceeded by one third and achieved one year ahead of schedule. Pharmaceuticals contributed S$13.9bn, or 88 per cent, to the total BMS manufacturing output in 2004, with the rest coming from medical device and equipment production. Employment in the pharmaceutical industry also rose by 7.4 per cent compared with 2003.

Critical Success Factors

There are many reasons why drug manufacturers are locating their operations in Singapore, including:

  • h3 intellectual property rights protection
  • Skilled manpower
  • Stable economy
  • h3 government commitment and support
  • Singapore's strategic geographic location providing easy access to a fast-growing Asia Pacific market
  • Excellent IT and logistics infrastructure
  • Singapore's growing network of Free Trade Agreements with countries such as the USA and Japan
  • Excellent regulatory support and conducive infrastructure
  • The presence of world-class research institutes, such as the Bioinformatics Institute, the Bioprocessing Technology Institute, the Genome Institute of Singapore, the Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology, the Institute of Bioengineering & Nanotechnology and the Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences

Exciting Developments
The 183-hectare Tuas Biomedical Park also plays a crucial role in attracting global pharmaceutical companies to set up their manufacturing bases in Singapore. It provides all the necessary infrastructure, such as roads, sewers, drainage systems, power and water supply, and telecommunication lines. In addition, manufacturers are able to access third-party services, such as the supply of steam, industrial gases and wastewater treatment. To cater to the growing demand, an additional 188 hectares has been developed in the second phase of Tuas Biomedical Park

With the large number of pharma companies based in Singapore, there are an equally large number of products manufactured there. These include:

GlaxoSmithKline:

Manufactures more than ten APIs, including Fluticasone Propionate, the compound behind the group's successful portfolio of respiratory medicines, which includes Seretide(r), Flixotide(r) and Flixonase(r).

Merck Sharpe & Dohme:

Manufactures a new combo-product called Vytorin, which combines a recently approved cholesterol medication, Ezetrol, with a widely used cholesterol medication, Zocor.

Also produces the active ingredients for Arcoxia(tm), which is used for the treatment of acute pain, and Singulair(r), an asthma drug

Novartis (Plant under construction):

Will manufacture some of the company's blockbuster products, such as Diovan for high blood pressure and cancer drug Glivec, as well as its abdominal discomfort treatment, Zelnorm.

Pfizer:

Manufactures the APIs, gabapentin and pregabalin. Gabapentin is indicated for adjunctive therapy in epilepsy and, in some markets, certain forms of neuropathic pain. Pregabalin is indicated for the treatment of epilepsy, neuropathic pain associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy, neuropathic pain associated with herpes zoster and generalised anxiety disorder.

Schering-Plough:

Manufactures a variety of APIs and steroids, and also operates a chemical process R&D plant.
Undertakes lyophilisation, fill and finish of PEG-Intron and Remicade.
Secondary manufacture of Zetia, a cholesterol medication.

Wyeth:

Infant formula milk.

Beyond Manufacturing - Drug Discovery

Three pharmaceutical companies have based their corporate R&D facilities in Singapore. Eli Lilly started Lilly Systems Biology (LSB), which was the first major commitment made by any pharmaceutical company in the field of systems biology with the specific purpose of accelerating the drug discovery process. LSB focuses on oncology in particular.

The Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases (NITD), on the other hand, was established to discover new treatments for dengue and tuberculosis. The Institute is well on its way to meeting its ambitious targets. First, NITD aims to have at least two compounds in clinical trials by 2008. It also plans to have ten new compounds available to patients by 2013.

GlaxoSmithKline is the latest addition. Its team of 30-35 scientists will focus on the research of new therapies in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease) and schizophrenia.

In addition to the pharmaceutical players, there are a growing number of international and homegrown biotechnology companies that have established operations in Singapore. For instance, Albany Molecular Research Inc, a leading contract chemistry development company, established its first research operations outside the USA in Singapore. The centre provides fee-for-service chemistry technologies, including medicinal and combinatorial chemistry, process research and scale-up chemistry, analytical services and the small volume manufacture of APIs. Other examples include Paradigm Therapeutics, Viacell, S*Bio, Merlion and ESI.

Moving Forward

Singapore's vision is to be the biopolis of Asia, and to achieve this it has built up world-class capabilities across the entire value chain, from drug discovery and clinical research to manufacturing and healthcare delivery. Our target is to achieve a manufacturing output of S$25bn and employment of 15,000 by 2015.

Author Bio

Dr BEH Swan Gin

Dr BEH Swan Gin, Director Biomedical Sciences Group (Singapore)

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