DPM Heng Swee Keat at the Groundbreaking Ceremony of Novartis Biologics Manufacturing Site Expansion

DPM Heng Swee Keat | 15 March 2024

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the groundbreaking ceremony of Novartis’ Biologics Manufacturing Site Expansion on 15 March 2024.

Mr Steffen Lang, President, Operations, Novartis,
His Excellency Frank Grütter, Ambassador of Switzerland to Singapore,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning. I am delighted to join you today to break ground on the expansion of Novartis’ biologics manufacturing facility.

Since 1986, Novartis and Singapore have built a strong, successful and wide-ranging partnership that has enabled people around the world to lead healthier lives.

Novartis has invested more than US$1 billion in Singapore over the years, and I am happy to see you further deepen your presence here. 
Through this site expansion, your production capacity in Singapore will more than double.

This will enable you to serve your global customers, including those in ASEAN and the Asia-Pacific, even better.

This latest collaboration is testament to how like-minded partners can work together, across borders and continents, to address shared global challenges like public health.

Congratulations to Novartis, as well as partners including the Economic Development Board, on this milestone!

Novartis’ current biologics plant in Singapore broke ground in 2013. In the decade since, the world has experienced, and emerged from, an unprecedented pandemic.

COVID-19 gave us a greater appreciation of the biopharma industry, and of biomedical sciences more broadly.

In particular, it demonstrated the importance of effective vaccines and therapeutics, without which we would likely have seen far higher rates of mortality and deeper economic hardship.

The speed and success in developing therapeutics during the pandemic has opened new possibilities for pharmaceutical interventions to treat cancer, chronic and immune diseases and other illnesses.

This will be especially salient as we confront the global challenge of an aging population in the years ahead.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that one in four people in the Asia-Pacific, or around 1.3 billion people, will be aged over 60 by 2050.

By that same year, the European Commission estimates that there will be close to half a million centenarians – those aged 100 and above – in Europe.

The two datapoints that I just cited are positive developments that testify to advances in medical care and technology. 

At the same time, as populations age, the risk of chronic conditions affecting our quality of life will rise.

So, as lifespans increase, our next challenge is to expand healthspans, so that everyone – especially our seniors – can continue to lead meaningful and productive lives.
Novel, innovative and high-quality therapeutics will play an increasingly important role here.

In Singapore, we recognised early that developing cutting-edge strengths in the life sciences can help to shape healthier lives and better futures for people across age groups, here and around the world. 

We started investing more than 2 decades ago in building a diverse, dynamic and trusted biomedical sector, including in biopharma.

By working with partners from around the world, including Novartis, we have built up a strong biomedical manufacturing base with reliable infrastructure and a conducive regulatory environment.

Today, the biomedical sector is one of the top 5 contributors to Singapore’s manufacturing output. Manufacturing, as a whole, accounts for close to 20% of our GDP.

In pharmaceuticals specifically, manufacturing output has more than tripled since 2000. 4 of the top 5 global pharmaceutical companies have set up manufacturing plants in Singapore.

Today, the biopharma sector in Singapore employs more than 9,000 skilled workers, and manufactures a wide range of products including biologics, vaccines, and small molecules.

This has benefited not only people in Singapore, but also those in the region and globally. 

In 2023, Novartis’ manufacturing facilities in Singapore shipped approximately 9 million treatment doses to patients around the world suffering from chronic hives and arthritis.

Singapore is committed to working with like-minded partners towards common causes.
We take an ecosystem approach to our biomedical investments, so as to build comprehensive capabilities across the value chain spanning research, innovation and enterprise, or RIE.

This enables us to catalyse innovative solutions and responses for today’s problems, while also fostering collaborations and building bridges to position ourselves well to tackle challenges of the future.

Over the years, we have deepened our biomedical research capabilities across our universities, academic medical centres and research institutes.
This has helped to nurture pools of talent who are committed to advancing the frontiers of science.

At the same time, we have worked with industry, including global partners like Novartis, to translate research insights into impactful, real-world solutions and unlock new business opportunities.

This multi-stakeholder approach recognises that advances in biomedicine require expertise from different domains, such as clinical healthcare, biological sciences, and advanced manufacturing.

Our successive Research, Innovation and Enterprise masterplans have supported efforts to achieve such synergies across domains.

Our latest RIE2025 plan, for example, identifies both Health and Human Potential, and Manufacturing, Trade and Connectivity, as focus areas.

In this way, we seek to be an even stronger partner to biomedical and pharmaceutical companies.

The Government has committed S$25 billion to our RIE2025 plan. We announced an additional S$3 billion injection at Budget 2024 last month.

Bearing in mind the benefits that biopharma can generate for millions of lives around the world, how can we take the sector forward to widen its impact? Let me suggest two priorities.

First, we should invest in new innovations to make biopharma more productive and sustainable.

In 2022, EDB and A*STAR announced the Biologics Pharma Innovation Programme, or BioPIPS, a public-private consortium bringing together leading industry and R&D experts to develop solutions that could enhance the sustainability and productivity of biopharma.

One part of this is to develop and adopt new technologies that allow firms to be more operationally efficient, and reduce emissions and waste.

Industry plays an important role in helping Singapore meet our sustainability goals under the Singapore Green Plan 2030. This includes leading the way on energy and carbon-efficient solutions.

I am pleased to hear that Novartis is a front-runner on sustainability initiatives by reducing emissions, water usage and waste as part of your global sustainability targets.
Your manufacturing plants here in Tuas have implemented a hybrid cooling system and are harnessing solar energy. 

As co-chair of the sustainability workstream within the Biopharma Manufacturers’ Advisory Council, you also help to mobilise others in the sector to collectively pursue greener solutions such as in renewables, waste minimisation and carbon capture.

New, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can also help biopharma achieve productivity gains.

I’m encouraged to hear from Steffen that Novartis plans to deploy novel digital and automation solutions at this new expanded facility. 

This includes continuous manufacturing processes such as N-1 perfusion technology, coupled with real-time monitoring, that will help to enhance manufacturing productivity.

Such technology deployment aligns with Singapore’s goal of increasing manufacturing value-add by 50% by 2030 under our Manufacturing 2030 masterplan.
It will also provide valuable training opportunities and equip workers with the latest skills and capabilities, to stay competitive and relevant amid fast-changing Industry 4.0 trends.
Singapore remains committed to partnering industry to upskill workers for roles in biopharma, such as through the Career Conversion Programme for the Biomedical Manufacturing Industry. 

We also work with industry partners to build R&D talent through industry scholarships such as the Industrial Postgraduate Programme and the Singapore Industry Scholarship.

As we invest to make biopharma manufacturing more productive and sustainable, the second priority is to deepen product innovation and seek new frontiers in therapeutics that can have an impact, in Singapore and in the wider region.

Over the years, our local healthcare institutions have collaborated with industry to make healthcare and therapeutics more targeted and effective.

For example, hospitals such as the National University Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, and the National Cancer Centre have partnered Novartis on clinical trials in therapeutic areas like oncology, immunology and neuroscience, as well as in innovative medicines such as radioligand therapies.

As a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise, Singapore seeks to work with industry to catalyse innovations that can shape a healthier future for the region and the world.

In fact, this mindset has always guided our collaborations with partners like Novartis.

Novartis’ manufacturing site in Singapore was your first biologics production facility in Asia. Today, Singapore serves as your regional headquarters for the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa.

I understand that Novartis plans to leverage this expanded site to manufacture innovative biological medicines developed in-house and by partners.

Moving forward, I encourage Novartis to extend your partnership with Singapore to manufacture advanced modalities such as gene and cell therapy, radioligand therapies and RNA therapeutics.

Investing in these areas will pave the way for more effective and precise biomedical solutions that help people, especially seniors, prolong their lifespans and enhance their healthspans.

Singapore, with our diverse and multiracial population, offers a good base for industry partners who are looking to develop new therapeutics targeted at Asian consumers.

Under our National Precision Medicine programme, we aim to sequence the genomes of 100,000 healthy Singaporeans, and 50,000 people with specific diseases, by 2025. 

This leading multi-ethnic Asian reference genome database will be a valuable resource for scientists, including from industry, to better understand how diseases develop, and how they can be better prevented and treated.

Let me conclude. In the next phase of growth for the biopharma sector, we should seek to make manufacturing more sustainable and productive, as well as to make products that are more targeted, precise and effective. This will require constant and persistent innovation.

With Singapore’s biomedical investments over the years, we have built an ecosystem that is well-positioned to work with global partners like Novartis to deliver best-in-class and innovative biologics products that can combat diseases and increase healthspans, around the region and globally.

My heartiest congratulations again to Novartis on this milestone of your expansion in Singapore. 

We appreciate your commitment to continued collaboration and innovation. I hope that you will forge even closer partnerships, so that we can collectively push the frontiers of biomedicine further. 

On the occasion of this groundbreaking ceremony, I look forward to Novartis breaking new ground and reaching new frontiers to bring us toward a healthier, safer future for all.

Thank you.