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Mr Raman Rao, Chief Executive Officer, Hilleman Laboratories


Dr Sanat Chattopadhyay, Chairman of the Board for Hilleman Laboratories and EVP & President, Merck


Ms Karen Chadwick, Chief Operating Officer, Wellcome Trust


Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


1.             I am glad to join all of you today to mark the launch of this 30,000 square foot cGMP facility of Hilleman Laboratories. Hilleman Laboratories’ commitment in Singapore brings about a strong booster for our economy and pandemic resilience, and this is therefore a momentous occasion. It is a matter of time, not if, that we will have another pandemic and we need to be ready.


2.             Singapore has been a leading hub for pharmaceutical, medical technology and biotechnology companies, because of our strong manufacturing capabilities, vibrant research ecosystem, skilled talent pool and our global connectivity.


3.             Based on last year’s revenue, eight of the top ten medical technology players and nine of the top ten biopharmaceutical companies have an established presence in Singapore. Various industry players are conducting research, developing and manufacturing new products, and meeting regional and global healthcare needs from Singapore.


4.             In so doing, they are also helping to strengthen our local capabilities, creating jobs and generating growth. In 2021, the biopharmaceutical and medical technology industries produced more than S$34 billion worth of products for global markets, contributing to 3.1% of Singapore’s GDP. Together, these two sectors employ around 25,000 people in Singapore. This is double the number since the early 2000s. R&D spending has been growing, from about S$600 million in 2010 to about S$830 million in 2020.


5.             I believe these two sectors in Singapore will continue to be bright spots in our economic future and will continue to grow. There are a couple of important reasons.


A Post-COVID Lift


6.             First, there is a strong impetus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to grow these sectors. Singapore’s COVID-19 response and outcomes are well-recognised by global experts. We managed to contain the spread in the initial phase of the pandemic, administered vaccines broadly when they became available, and then we staged a controlled opening of our society and economy. This is a textbook response, but to execute it is not so easy.


7.             Throughout this process, there is strong trust between the government and people, and amongst the people. Our healthcare system was not overwhelmed, we kept schools opened, and post-pandemic our aviation sector rebounded very strongly. Most importantly, Singapore registered one of the lowest excess deaths in the world during the pandemic.


8.             We have learnt much during the pandemic, and will further strengthen our pandemic resilience. For example, we will establish a new Communicable Diseases Agency (CDA) to consolidate the public health functions that currently reside in different organisations, and comprehensively oversee pandemic preparedness and response. We will update our legislation, the Infectious Diseases Act, to give us the flexibility and nimbleness to respond to a dynamic and evolving pandemic crisis.


9.             The pandemic prompted us to invest more in pandemic R&D – about an additional $100 million over the next five years. We launched the Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Response (PREPARE) last year, and have pulled together multi-disciplinary experts to strengthen our capabilities in this area.


10.          Vaccine inequity has become a major concern in the world, especially amongst the global south, given the shortage of vaccines at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries are looking at building up vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities indigenously, so as to have greater assurance over vaccine access and self-sufficiency when the next pandemic strikes.


11.          Singapore can fully understand this desire and we wish our friends well in this difficult and complex endeavour in self-sufficiency investment. However, we are a small country and market, and we cannot dream of self-sufficiency. We do not have the market size, nor the depth of capabilities to do this. Instead, we have taken a different approach that emphasises public-private partnerships and international cooperation, and plugged ourselves into the global network of vaccine development and production. We are therefore anchoring key stakeholders to support end-to-end vaccine development and manufacturing.


12.          This approach turns our population’s modest vaccine needs into a strength. Partnering with private sector vaccine manufacturers allows for a win-win situation where Singaporeans have speedy access to pandemic vaccines, while vaccine manufacturers will produce for the region and the world, from Singapore, to meet their demands. I should reiterate that throughout the pandemic crisis, we ensured that all investors in Singapore could fulfil their contracts, and this continues to be our commitment.


Building on Singapore’s Traditional Strengths


13.          The second big reason why we can be optimistic about the future of the medical technology and biopharmaceutical industries is that Singapore will continue to build upon our traditional strengths and competitiveness.


14.          One key strength is our connectivity to the world, through our seaport, airport and infocomm networks. Raw materials, equipment, finished products, data and talent can come in and out of Singapore easily, and connect readily to all parts of the world.


15.          Another key area is the quality of talent available in Singapore. We may be small and our manpower base is small, but there are good workers and managers in R&D, manufacturing processes and business management. We invest in education strongly and many talent development schemes to help Singaporeans develop new capabilities for the manufacturing sector. This includes programmes specifically catered to the biopharmaceutical manufacturing sector.


16.          In addition, Singapore has a strong and forward-looking intellectual property (IP) regime, probably one of the strongest in the world. We did a major review of our IP regime in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as we were forging Free Trade Agreements with all our key partners. This put us in good stead to attract knowledge-intensive and high value-added investments into Singapore.


Hilleman Laboratories in Singapore


17.           These two major reasons – the impetus of the COVID-19 pandemic and building on our traditional strengths – probably contributed to Hilleman Laboratories’ decision to plant its stake in Singapore. Hilleman Laboratories is investing close to S$80 million in operations, infrastructure and capacity building over five years since 2021, and hiring up to 55 scientists, engineers and managers here.


18.          With the opening of this pilot-scale cGMP facility today, our capabilities in Singapore will span the whole value chain, from product development, manufacturing to fill-finish for vaccines and biologics.


19.          Since moving its headquarters to Singapore, Hilleman Laboratories has also played an active role in research and manpower training. For example, it is collaborating with A*STAR to evaluate novel vaccine technologies and platforms that could produce vaccines that are potentially thermostable, allowing for easier storage and distribution. You are also a strategic partner of PREPARE in vaccines and therapeutics development.


20.          During peacetime, Hilleman Laboratories will focus on early clinical development of vaccines and biologics for common diseases in the region and the world. During a crisis, your manufacturing capabilities are designed to pivot to produce new vaccines to fight the pandemic. You are one of five companies with vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities, anchored in Singapore and helping to serve the larger region and the world.


21.          In other words, Hilleman Laboratories will be a crucial piece of the pandemic preparedness and resilience jigsaw. This cGMP facility, together with an existing R&D facility in Biopolis, will form a vaccine and biologics development and manufacturing hub, which is the first of its kind in Singapore, and probably the region.




22.          Let me end by congratulating Hilleman Laboratories on the launch of your cGMP facility. Many people, both in your company and in Singapore, including the Economic Development Board, have worked hard to bring this project to fruition. We welcome you warmly to Singapore and look forward to a strong partnership. I wish the team all the best in your continued endeavours. Thank you very much.

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