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 As for funds committed to research, the 15 largest pharmaceutical companies invested a record US$133 billion in R&D expenditure in 2021, an increase of 44% since 2016. Venture capital funds were also available, especially in the US. They provided funding for over 2,000 deals totalling US$47 billion in deal value. Life sciences deal transactions – including licensing, collaborative R&D arrangements and acquisitions – remained at just under 5,000 deals in 2021, including over 500 related to Covid-19.
Emerging biopharma companies – those with an estimated R&D expenditure of less than US$200 million and annual revenue of less than US$500 million – were responsible for a record 65% of research, up from less than 50% in 2016 and one-third in 2001.
IQVIA further noted the innovation cycle time has accelerated, with the median time from first patent filing to launch in the US falling to its lowest level in the past two years. Among them were 21 drugs that were launched less than five years into their patent terms. Almost three-quarters received some form of expedited review by the FDA, including one in four receiving an accelerated approval or an Emergency Use Authorisation.
Going forward
The worst of the pandemic may well be behind us but Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of pandemic preparedness and vaccine development.
“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,” said Mr Heng at Sanofi’s EVF groundbreaking ceremony.
Besides Sanofi, several other pharmaceutical companies are also ramping up their presence in Singapore as Covid-19 has strengthened the case for vaccine development for a host of diseases, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Even though the pandemic caused 6 million deaths and the worst economic downturn in a century, it could have been a lot worst if it were not for the expeditious development of safe and effective vaccines. A century ago, at least 50 million lives worldwide were lost because of the Spanish Flu.
Hilleman Laboratories has set up a 9,144- sq. metre manufacturing plant in Depot Road to supply clinical trial materials for biologics and vaccines up to phase 2, and an R&D facility at Biopolis focusing on early product development of vaccines and biologics; pharmaceutical contract manufacturer Thermo Fisher Scientific expanded its Asia Pacific manufacturing capability with the addition of two sterile filling lines, including one large-scale line dedicated to live-virus filling; and BioNTech has plans for a manufacturing facility in Singapore to produce a range of novel mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for infectious diseases and cancer.
Until the pandemic hit, there was just one vaccine plant in Singapore which was set up by GlaxoSmithKline in 2011 to manufacture pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae antigens for the company’s childhood bacterial vaccines.
Also here is leading Contract Research, Development and Manufacturing Organization (CRDMO) WuXi Biologics. In July 2022, the Shanghai headquartered company announced a 10-year US$1.4 billion (S$2 billion) investment plan to expand the company’s research, development, and large-scale drug substance and drug product manufacturing capacity and capabilities in Singapore. Slated
to be completed in 2026, the plant will add 120,000 litres of manufacturing capacity to its global network and employ 1,500 staff in research and production.
Currently, the company has over 10,000 employees in China, the United States, Ireland, Germany and Singapore.
Research is also being stepped up. Over five years to 2025, Singapore is committing S$25 billion to research, innovation and enterprise RIE2025 and advanced manufacturing, which includes biopharma production, is a priority area.
One programme is the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore, or PIPS, a public-private consortium involving global pharma companies and researchers that aims to address industry challenges in small molecule manufacturing.
“PIPS has had early success in improving the process for continuous manufacturing,” said Mr Heng. “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.”
It is not a question of if the next pandemic will hit, but when. By ramping up capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Singapore, we can strengthen the region’s position to withstand future pandemics or supply chain shocks.

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