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Biopharma firm AbbVie opens S$400m biologics plant in Tuas


GLOBAL research and development-based bio-pharmaceutical company AbbVie has enlarged its footprint in Singapore.

On Wednesday, it opened a new biologics manufacturing plant in Tuas, which will expand its manufacturing capabilities for biologics, which are commercial products derived from biotechnology. (Vaccines are one example.)

The biologics plant, located in Tuas Biomedical Park, comes in addition to AbbVie's existing small-molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) facility.

The new plant, costing S$400 million, is AbbVie's first manufacturing plant in Asia and the only site in the company's global manufacturing network to house both biologics and API manufacturing capabilities.

Besides Singapore, AbbVie's global manufacturing network has 12 other sites across the US, Europe and Puerto Rico.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Trade and Industry Minister S Iswaran said the new facility comes just as ageing populations, growing demand for health care and technological changes are changing healthcare paradigms.

Citing Deloitte's 2017 Global Healthcare Outlook report, he noted that health care spending in the world's major regions will register compound annual growth rates of between 2.4 and 7.5 per cent between 2015 and 2020.

And this rise in health care expenditure will be driven by emerging and lower-income markets, as well as the expansion of services in developed countries, he said.

"Technology will allow health care providers to engage patients more effectively and intimately, and enable the centre of health care delivery models to shift from hospitals to communities."

At the same time, technology might also change the nature of manufacturing; firms that leverage this successfully will be able to achieve significant productivity gains and differentiate themselves from the competition in the market, he added.

These shifts will disrupt existing business models, but they present significant new opportunities and therefore, "it is essential we adopt a forward-looking approach and work closely with our people and industry partners to seize the opportunities that lie ahead".

He said Singapore will continue to invest in innovation and work closely with the industry to strengthen the country's competitiveness.

"Under our Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan, we will be investing S$4 billion in health and biomedical sciences and another S$3.2 billion in advanced manufacturing and engineering.

"A strategic goal of RIE 2020 is to strengthen linkages between public research performers and private enterprises to create greater value from our public investments in R&D."

The investments are part of the government's S$19 billion commitment to support Singapore's R&D efforts over the next five years.

Mr Iswaran said the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), in partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS), has signed an agreement with pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline, MSD International and Pfizer Asia-Pacific to launch the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (Pips), an industry development scheme, to ensure that "our pharmaceutical manufacturing base is well-positioned to meet the changing demands of the industry".

Referring to the Professional Conversion Programme for the pharmaceutical and biologics sectors, Mr Iswaran added that the government remains committed to training and upskilling the local workforce. More than 350 individuals have already benefited from the programme jointly developed by Workforce Singapore and the Singapore Economic Development Board since 2014.

Also speaking at the AbbVie opening ceremony, company chairman and chief executive Richard Gonzalez said one reason AbbVie picked Singapore to park its S$400 million investment was the support and encouragement companies get from the government.

AbbVie, which manufactures therapies for oncology and immunology treatment, now employs about 400 workers in Singapore. Apart from those in the manufacturing plant, it has about 150 employees at its Asia-Pacific commercial headquarters in Buona Vista.

The biologics and API facilities at the 120,000-sq m plant will create 250 jobs in various roles, such as supply chain management, technical operations and manufacturing.