Singapore turns to drugs to soo the output hiccups

October 31, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore plans to attract pharmaceuticals makers and raise the number of drug factories on the island in the hope to reduce the wild swings in industrial output.

Nopporn Wong-Anan

Singapore’s government plans to attract pharmaceuticals makers and raise the number of drug factories on the island by two thirds in the hope that a broader product range will reduce the wild swings in industrial output.

The Economic Development Board, the trade promotion body, plans to increase the number of jobs in the pharmaceuticals industry by a quarter to 15,000 by 2015. Drugs production unexpectedly drove a strong rebound in the country’s economy this year.

“We have 30 (plants) now and we are looking at 50,” Beh Kian Teik, director of biomedical sciences at the EDB told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

Biomedical production and exports, which contributed 4 percent to Singapore’s $179 billion gross domestic product in 2008, surged in the second and third quarters of this year.

The industry’s production cycles are subject to wild swings, which economists say could distort the picture of the economy. Factory output slipped last month as the biomedical output boom faded.

Beh said the volatility was caused by a small number of manufacturers, which are at different stages of production from clinical to full-scale commercial output, and often shut plants for cleaning when changing between products.

The government had identified the drugs industry in the 1990s as a way to diversify its economy away from electronics manufacturing.

Analysts said the EDB should give a timeframe for its plan. “It will be good to know the timeframe as it will provide a clearer picture on the speed of expansion of this industry. This is important given its significant contribution to the economy,” said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Biomedical output has more than made up for Singapore’s weak electronic manufacturing this year to help push the trade-dependent city out of its deepest-ever recession.

Singapore has turned into one of Asia’s fastest-growing biomedical centres, with partnerships between research institutes, corporate laboratories and public hospitals to develop new medicines for Asian and global markets.

More than 10 leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have their Asian headquarters in Singapore, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and Merck.