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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Biopharma Industry Day 2021

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Biopharma Industry Day 2021

1. Good morning.

2. It is my pleasure to join you at the Biopharma Industry Day, an opportunity for the sector to gather virtually to exchange insights. 

3. Last month, we announced the advance GDP estimates for the first quarter of 2021. 

a. The Singapore economy saw a slight year-on-year growth of 0.2%. This was the first quarterly growth recorded since the pandemic. 

b. The manufacturing sector in particular, saw a 7.6% year-on-year growth in the same quarter, a reversal from the 1.4% contraction recorded in the fourth quarter of 2020. 

4. While Singapore remains highly vigilant in face of the uncertain global pandemic situation coupled with several downside risks, this expansion sends a hopeful signal that our economy is slowly, but steadily, recovering from COVID-19. 

Biomedical cluster – Bright spot for Manufacturing 2030 

5. Earlier this year, I shared about our Manufacturing 2030 plan. 

a. Our vision is for Singapore to become a global business, innovation and talent hub for advanced manufacturing. 

b. The goal is to move into higher value manufacturing where competition is not based on cost, but based on know-how and skills, so that we are not easily displaced from global value chains. 

c. The biomedical cluster is a key contributor to this vision.

6. This cluster has remained resilient despite the economic headwinds arising from COVID-19 and other geopolitical events. 

a. It employs about 25,000 workers and contributed almost 18% of our manufacturing GDP in 2020. 

b. There is a pipeline of good job opportunities as well, with almost 800 job openings offered by over 60 biomedical companies in the past 12 months  .

c. These span across the full value chain from biotechnologists and automation engineers, to quality assurance and production roles. 

7. In the past 20 years, the world has seen many medical developments and breakthroughs, beyond what we could have imagined. 

a. Various new categories of medicine have transformed from labs to reality. 

b. Today, we are seeing technologies such as gene therapy, stem cells treatment, cancer immunotherapy, and innovations in 3D printing to make personalised medical treatments.  

c. Some of these developments may have even been catalysed or expedited by COVID-19. 

8. Singapore has been a part of these developments. In particular, we have made good progress to build strong capabilities and skills within the biopharma sector. 

a. Singapore has over 60 manufacturing facilities across a wide range of products, including bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients, bulk biologics, drug products and nutritionals.

b. We also developed the Tuas Biomedical Park (TBP) to host process development and large-scale manufacturing operations of major companies. 

c. Located in the West of Singapore, the 280-hectare specialised industrial park is home to 7,000 employees and 13 global biopharmaceutical companies today.

d. For example, biopharma companies in Singapore manufacture products from antibiotics, flu vaccines, asthma inhalers, to life-saving medicine for hypertension and diabetes, and even necessities like formula milk.

e. Together, these investments in Singapore’s capabilities will equip us for end-to-end production of many biomedical products, including vaccines. Aside from strengthening Singapore’s position as part of the global value chain, it also supports our long-term resilience.

Growing the biomedical sector in Singapore 


9. The Government will continue to attract frontier investments to Singapore, while grooming and growing our local enterprises in this space.

10. Investments in the sector have been healthy. The top and largest global biopharma companies have continued to invest in Singapore.

a. In 2020, the biomedical manufacturing sector managed to record almost S$640 million in Fixed Assets Investment and S$270 million in Total Business Expenditure, despite the pandemic.

b. Companies like Sanofi, Thermo Fisher and GSK are notable examples that have continued to grow their presence and introduce innovative technologies in Singapore. 

c. Last month, Sanofi announced an investment of more than S$630 million over five years to build a vaccine production centre in Singapore.  The new facility will provide Sanofi with the ability to produce innovative vaccines on a massive scale for Asia and respond to future pandemic risks. In doing so, it is expected to create up to 200 local jobs.

d. In October last year, Thermo Fisher announced plans to set up two new sterile filling lines in Singapore, which will strengthen the Asia-Pacific’ region’s ability to respond effectively to future health emergencies. The S$170 million facility which is the first of its kind in Singapore, will be operational in 2022 and employ up to 300 workers. 

11. In addition to global MNCs, we also have an ecosystem of strong local enterprises that are pioneering developments in the biomedical space such as Tessa Therapeutics and Hummingbird Bioscience. 

a. Tessa Therapeutics is one of the pioneers in using cell therapy to treat cancer. As innovators in the field of cancer immunotherapy, Tessa is developing a unique and potentially transformational “off-the-shelf” allogeneic cell therapy platform. 

b. Hummingbird Bioscience is an innovative clinical-stage biotech company focused on developing precision therapies against hard-to-drug targets to improve treatment outcomes. It is in the process of developing an antibody therapy to contribute to the arsenal of options needed to combat COVID-19, even as pharmaceutical giants make progress in vaccine development. 

c. We will continue to support our local enterprises in developing new strengths and capabilities to anchor our biomedical sector’s economic contributions. 

Strong partnerships to grow indigenous capabilities 

12. A strong sector must be anchored by good capabilities. For the biopharma sector to continue growing, we need to ensure that we have a robust pipeline of talent to support both global MNCs and our homegrown players. 

13. To build the talent pipeline for manufacturing, JTC launched the Industry Connect initiative in January 2020. 

a. The aim was to partner businesses across its estates on talent development initiatives, while encouraging technology adoption and environmental sustainability. 

b. With over 14,000 businesses across industries in 100 estates managed by JTC, it can effectively promote talent outreach by connecting companies to academia, industry partners and agencies.

c. Currently, over 8,000 talent have been engaged through industry days for advanced manufacturing, electronics, biopharma, and aerospace sectors in JTC’s estates. 

d. This is especially important to build up a local talent pipeline, and train new talent as we prepare for economic recovery.

14. I am glad to see that one of the few industry-government council groups in Singapore, the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Advisory Council (BMAC), is taking the lead to attract manufacturing talent.

a. Organised by JTC and 16 BMAC companies, the Biopharma Industry Day today is a signature event introduced as part of BMAC’s talent attraction and training initiatives. 

b. As we continue to grow our manufacturing sector, these partnerships between companies and academia will strengthen our efforts to attract and upskill talent.

15. In addition, there are ongoing efforts to support local talent in capturing opportunities in the growing biopharma manufacturing industry. 

a. Workforce Singapore and the Economic Development Board are working with industry stakeholders, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic to launch manpower training programmes.

b. These include the Professional Conversion Programme for Advanced Biopharmaceuticals Manufacturing Professionals and Executives to equip 300 PMETs with the necessary skills to take on roles in biologics, pharmaceutical, and Cell and Gene Therapy manufacturing.

Tuas Biomedical Park to be a Conducive Environment for Businesses and Workers

16. The working environment in biopharma typically needs to be sterile and stringent. This is important to ensure quality control in the production of drugs and vaccines.

17. However, we know that many of our younger workers today would enjoy a greener and more dynamic environment to work in. 

18. To make the workplace an exciting one for new and young talent, JTC is working closely with partners and businesses to rejuvenate our industrial estates. 

a. Estate enhancements are expected to be completed by this year, to make Tuas Biomedical Park a more conducive environment for talent and companies.

b. As part of efforts to enhance the estate greenery and promote environmental sustainability, JTC has partnered NParks and BMAC companies on a Plant-a-Tree initiative. 

c. To-date, a total donation commitment of $100,000 have been raised by the community. The first phase of tree planting kickstarted earlier last month and will complete by July this year.

Conclusion 

19. Let me end by thanking our biopharma companies for coming together to make the first industry day a success. I am confident that the sector can harness new opportunities and emerge stronger in Singapore and beyond. 

20. For our students and those looking to join the biopharma sector, I hope you will be inspired by what you experience today. We look forward to having you come on-board and take on the many exciting job opportunities in the sector. 

21. Thank you. 

 
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