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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Official Opening of GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Production Facilities

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Official Opening of GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) Production Facilities

To all the friends and colleagues of the GSK family. It’s good to be back here. 

I grew up in a camp which is just two minutes from here. That was my first army camp in 1988. So it's good to see how far GSK has come. But today, beyond reminiscing about the past, it is also a good time for us to take stock of where we have come together with GSK in this journey of ours to build a biopharma industry in Singapore.

I would say that if we retraced our steps, nobody would have imagined that we would have the biopharma industry in Singapore that we have today. Nobody would imagine that we would have the necessary investors, workers, associated supply chains, production facilities and so forth. So, the first point that is so amazing about this journey is that now when we look back, not many of us recall how miraculous, how impossible this journey could have been.

We did this over the years, with partners like GSK, developing from scratch the production facilities, training the workers from scratch and developing the associated ecosystem as we call it now. Not just the production facilities, but the R&D, the supply chains with distribution networks, piece by piece. Just as how GSK has reinvented this site, piece by piece over the last 30 to 40 years. 

Today, Singapore is one of the global biomedical hubs where high quality medical products are produced. And today, even though we are at the forefront of this industry, we never forget our fundamentals that have brought us here. The fundamentals of how we develop trusted partnerships with GSK and other partners in this industry, how we protect intellectual property (IP) and how we train our workers. These are all fundamentals that will continue to put Singapore in good stead in the next lap.

Having said that, today is very different from 40 years ago. The nature of medicine has changed. Just as we were sharing earlier, what is the biggest change in medicine today and going forward? I will put it down to this phrase that people have bandied about, but sometimes not realising the full implications. It is what we call precision medicine enabled by data. In the past, many people have produced simple molecules in large quantity. It is what many in the industry call the low mix, high volume business. But going forward, increasingly we are in the high mix, low volume business. With the asymptotical limit of a batch of one. Precision medicine, tailored and custom made for the individual – because we are able to analyse the requirements down to the level of the individual. 

Now, if this is the worldwide environment for the biomedical industry, the question is whether Singapore will continue to do well in this environment? I am confident that we will because this environment requires all the ingredients that Singapore has. Because in this environment, you must have an environment that enables the data to flow, to be exchanged, to be analysed, to be processed so that you can constantly develop these new products. This is the reason why as part of our wider ecosystem, it is so important for Singapore to make sure that we remain connected with the rest of the world, work with like-minded partners, be it countries or big companies, to make sure that we allow the data to flow. When data flows, data is analysed at scale and that is when we are able to drive precision medicine. Not every country believes in this but in Singapore we do. And because we do, we will work with like-minded partners to make sure that this environment continues to grow and flourish. 

The second criteria in this new environment is this: If we go to an asymptotical limit of a batch of one, quality and trust will be of utmost importance. We are no longer competing on the basis of how cheap we can make our production because cost is not a constraining factor. Quality and trust will be. In previous production, maybe six sigma is sufficient. In this new world, six sigma is nowhere near sufficient. When it comes down to a batch of one, it has to be that precise, that targeted. This is where we have confidence working with partners like GSK and others, to enable us to have the facilities to produce and meet the demands in this new environment.

Today is just one piece in the larger landscape of how the biomedical industry is transforming in Singapore, against the global backdrop. This will require us to work even closer with our partners so that we can achieve the speed to market in the production facilities and in the current products that we can produce.

So I have briefly mentioned where we have come from and where we are going. The last point I will make today is how do we get there? I will just highlight two ingredients on how Singapore can distinguish ourselves from the competition and get better. 

First is trust. Trust and collaboration between the government, the economic agencies and the companies. Many of these things, many of the things that GSK is doing in Singapore, will never be possible without trust. The kind of investment that you make in Singapore will never be recovered in a year or two. You will require a sustained presence, a predictable environment, an environment that protects your IP and an environment that enables you to try new things. In order to achieve that, we need trust and collaboration between the government and economic agencies and GSK. It will be the same kind of trust and collaboration that we will offer to all others in the biomedical industry. So that is the first enabling ingredient. 

The second enabling ingredient for us to achieve what we want to do together will be the tripartite relationship. Singapore is very unique. Every time we transform, our workers need to be retrained at the same time. Everyone in the world knows this but not everyone in the world can do this. We have a unique system in Singapore where we want to see government, businesses and labour working closely together. The union is part of this ecosystem. They are the ones that must partner the companies to mobilise the workers to constantly retrain for the future. 

I was once the union chief and I know what can be achieved if we work collaboratively together. This is something quite unique. Not many countries would have someone be the union chief one day and trade minister the next. It is just an example of how unique we are. But jokes aside, that is the special ingredient Singapore has. 

Today when I came in, I met Selvaraju who has been here for at least 20 years. He is a good example of someone who joined GSK 22 years ago. He started off not in his current job capacity but was routinely and constantly upgraded, trained, retrained and retrained again to keep pace with the production and manufacturing needs.

This is the kind of partnership that has enabled GSK and many other multinationals and local companies to do well in Singapore, for Singapore. Without this, if workers are left behind, then we will face in Singapore the same challenges that people face elsewhere, which is that workers will start to resist change. If workers and unions start to resist change then there is no way that we can accomplish what we want to do together. We can build all the nice facilities, we can have all the good government and business collaborations but it will never work without the last ingredient.

So once again, let me congratulate GSK for your work in Singapore and I would also like to thank you for your partnership, your trust and your confidence to continue to work closely with the Singapore government to bring GSK to the next higher level, as part of our wider biomedical industry cluster in Singapore. I would like to commend you for the work that you have done in Singapore over the last almost 40 years and more.

I believe that we have a shared future together because we all share the same vision that one day, we will be part of the global hub to produce high quality medicine for precision treatment so that our people can live better, live longer. All that will only be possible if we continue to strengthen our partnership between the government and GSK, GSK and the unions. We never once take this for granted. We always take it as a work in progress but we are proud to have partnered with you. We look forward to many more years together with you.

Thank you very much, GSK.

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