Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Groundbreaking Ceremony for Sanofi's Evolutive Vaccine Facility on 20 April 2022.
Mr Thomas Triomphe,
Executive Vice President, Head of Vaccines, Sanofi
Ambassador Marc Abensour,
French Ambassador to Singapore
Ambassador Iwona Piorko,
EU Ambassador to Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good morning. The ground-breaking of Sanofi’s Evolutive Vaccines Facility comes at an opportune time.
In the past two years, the COVID 19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on lives and livelihoods – with 6 million deaths, and the worst economic downturn in a century.
If not for the development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the disruptions and fatalities would have been much greater. For context, the Spanish Flu a century ago was estimated to have taken at least 50 million lives worldwide.
A vaccine has never been developed and manufactured faster than in this crisis, and this was a gamechanger. More than 11 billion doses of vaccines were produced last year. Monthly production now stands at 1.5 billion doses.
With high vaccination rates and the Omicron wave receding, we can gather here physically today as we learn to live with the virus.
The Omicron wave might have receded, but new variants of concern could still emerge. Even when COVID-19 is eventually behind us, we must anticipate and prepare for the next pandemic.
COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of pandemic preparedness and supply chain resilience. We must not take our foot off the pedal when the pandemic fades.
Disease X is not a matter of if, but when. Yet no one knows what it would be like, nor when it could strike. But we know that vaccines will remain at the heart of how we deal with the threats of infectious diseases.
By enhancing our capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Singapore, the region will be in a stronger position for dealing with future pandemics and the ensuing economic shocks.
Locating vaccine production here will also allow us to push new frontiers of innovation in vaccine manufacturing, and in biomedical sciences more broadly.
Sanofi’s Evolutive Vaccines Facility
It is in this context that this ground-breaking for Sanofi’s Evolutive Vaccines Facility is timely. The partnership between Sanofi and Singapore goes back more than fifty years.
Sanofi is one of the largest vaccine makers in the world – with global scale, know how, and distribution networks.
Your presence here started in 1970, with the establishment of a small molecule API manufacturing plant in Jurong.
Since then, Sanofi has grown your footprint here significantly, with the setting up of your APAC regional headquarters here in 1997 as well as clinical research and innovation functions.
The Evolutive Vaccines Facility or EVF will be your first vaccine manufacturing plant in Singapore. This is testament to your confidence in the value of such capability for the region, and the confidence in the partnership between France and Singapore.
This S$638 million facility will push the boundaries of production with cutting edge manufacturing and digital technologies.
As its name suggests, the EVF will be evolutive – designed to respond quickly to future pandemic risks and with the capacity to produce at massive scale.
Typical vaccine manufacturing facilities are only able to produce one vaccine at a time. But the EVF will be designed around several fully digitalised modules that allow production of three to four vaccines simultaneously.
The factory will also have the flexibility to leverage multiple vaccine manufacturing technology platforms, including mRNA.
This modularity and flexibility will allow the faster production of a vaccine when a public health crisis hits.
In addition, the facility is designed to be carbon neutral, to be more resource efficient and to minimise waste production.
Biopharma @ Singapore
Sanofi’s EVF is the latest addition to Singapore’s biopharma ecosystem. Here in Singapore, we have the active ingredients to help biopharma companies grow and contribute to the region. Let me name three of them – scale, innovation, and talent.
First, scale. We need to look no further than where we are today – Tuas Biomedical Park. The 280-hectare Tuas Biomedical Park is home to 13 global biopharmaceutical companies and 7,000 workers. We look forward to Sanofi joining this growing Tuas community.
Singapore is an ideal biopharma manufacturing base given our strong air and sea connectivity, and cold chain facilities. For many of the biopharma companies with manufacturing here, Singapore is a key site supplying not just the region, but also global locations including the US and Europe.
Besides global MNCs, we also have a strong ecosystem of local enterprises, including cancer immunotherapy firm Tessa Therapeutics and precision therapy company Hummingbird Bioscience.
The biopharma industry has been experiencing rapid growth, further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Manufacturing output tripled in the past two decades and is now at more than $18billion per year.
To collaborate on serving the healthcare needs of patients in the region and helping people live longer and healthier, we formed an industry-government group – the Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Advisory Council or BMAC.
Sanofi, together with 15 other top biopharma companies, is part of the BMAC. So too government agencies such as EDB and JTC. Besides collaborating on emerging trends and new opportunities, the BMAC also works together on two important areas – innovation and talent.
This brings me to my second point, innovation. The evolutive characteristics of this facility are necessary, as new manufacturing technologies and product types – such as mRNA – come online. Another objective of this plant is to prepare against future pandemics, the nature of which is unknown.
Besides in-house R&D, Sanofi can tap on our vibrant and extensive research ecosystem. Singapore is committed to invest about 1% of our GDP in research, innovation, and enterprise – or RIE.
We have stayed the course and sustained our investments in R&D for the past thirty years. In the coming five years to 2025, we have committed S$25 billion as part of RIE2025. Advanced manufacturing – including biopharma production – is a priority area for RIE2025.
One programme is the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore, or PIPS. This is a consortium between global pharma companies and our researchers to address industry challenges in small molecule manufacturing. PIPS has had early success in improving the process for continuous manufacturing.
Building on this momentum, we are further expanding this initiative under RIE2025 to include biologics and vaccine manufacturers. A new programme – BIOPIPS – will be started to enable more companies to work on pre-competitive co-innovation.
Given Sanofi’s EVF vision to continually evolve, I trust you will find opportunities to work with our researchers and fellow industry players here. The EVF can also add to the biopharma community, both as a leader of innovation and as a partner for collaborative solutioning.
To support innovation and leading-edge production, human capital is critical. This new facility will create 200 good jobs and we need to ensure that our people have the skills to take on these opportunities. This brings me to my third point, talent.
We have various programmes to nurture talent in the biopharma manufacturing space, from pre-employment training and training in advance programmes, to mid-career conversion programs.
The Biopharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Advisory Council has also been very active in the nurturing of talent. For example, the BMAC worked with our institutes of higher learning to ensure that training is industry relevant. One of Singapore’s newest universities, the Singapore Institute of Technology has a pharmaceutical engineering degree co-developed with BMAC.
In May last year, BMAC partnered JTC and other stakeholders to organise the inaugural Biopharma Industry Day, which attracted more than 1,500 students and jobseekers. Participants were able to learn more about the sector via virtual plant tours and sharing by industry professionals.
As we create more good jobs in biopharma, we will be able to attract more people to join the industry. This will create a virtuous circle that will strengthen the vibrancy and scale of the industry.
Let me conclude. This ground-breaking ceremony takes place at a very opportune time – as we seek to exit the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also looking ahead to prepare for Disease X.
The upcoming Evolutive Vaccines Facility will enhance our capacity for manufacturing vaccines here in Singapore, and strengthen the region’s position to withstand future pandemics or supply chain shocks.
As importantly, Sanofi’s new factory will add to the growing biopharma community in Singapore, and enable us to further push the boundaries of vaccine manufacturing.
Lastly, this investment is testament to our strong partnership with Sanofi, and the strong bilateral relationship between France and Singapore, and between EU and Singapore.
On this note, I wish Sanofi all the very best, and look forward to an even stronger partnership in the years ahead. Thank you.
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