Singapore is shot at by global drug demand

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Singapore (AFP)

Scientists in protective clothing work in a high-tech lab at a pharmaceutical factory in Singapore, whose coronavirus-hit economy has been shot in the arm by strong global demand for drugs.

The city-state is on course for the worst recession in its history this year, but factory activity has held up, in part thanks to countries rushing to stockpile drugs during the pandemic.

The country, barely half the size of Los Angeles, has become a hub for drug makers and is home to more than 50 factories, owned by big players such as Pfizer, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline and Takeda.

Singapore’s pharmaceutical sector “plays an important role in the global supply chain of the pharmaceutical industry,” Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for the Asia-Pacific region at consultancy IHS Markit, told AFP.

And in 2020, “governments and private sector companies have built up critical drug stocks due to severe supply chain disruptions in many countries during the pandemic,” he added.

The data highlights the benefits for the mall – biomedical manufacturing, which covers pharmaceuticals, rose sharply, with production increasing 90% year-on-year in September alone.

Exports also defied expectations of a collapse and posted growth most of the year, aided by drug shipments, although they fell in October and November.

While much attention has been focused on vaccine development, the high demand for drugs to treat diseases ranging from asthma to epilepsy has supported the continued good fortune of the city’s pharmaceutical giants, according to actors. industry and analysts.

It’s a much needed boost after Singapore’s economy contracted by more than 13% in the second quarter, when the country introduced severe viral brakes.

With borders largely closed, the key tourism sector has been hit particularly hard, with arrivals falling to just 13,400 in October, from 1.7 million in January.

However, Singapore’s outbreak has been relatively moderate, with the city-state recording around 58,000 cases and 29 deaths, while the economy started to recover in July-September with the easing of restrictions.

The city has long been a major exporter of electronics, from chips to computer hard drives, but has sought to diversify its manufacturing sector.

– Uneven recovery –

The biomedical industry – which also covers the manufacture of high-tech medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers – now employs more than 24,000 people and accounts for about 20% of the manufacturing sector, according to risk consulting firm Fitch Solutions.

Singapore, with a population of 5.7 million, is one of the few countries that exports more pharmaceuticals than it imports – in 2019 it shipped pharmaceuticals worth $ 8 , US $ 1 billion while importing US $ 3.1 billion, according to Fitch.

The authorities have encouraged cutting-edge research to grow the economy, pledging to invest nearly US $ 20 billion in research and innovation over the next five years.

Amid a network of stainless steel pipes and storage tanks, the Takeda facility cultivates hamster ovary cells to make ingredients for drugs to treat hemophilia, a rare disease that affects the ability of blood to clot.

The final product is transported by air to Switzerland, Vienna or California where it is mixed with other ingredients and put in bottles, before being sent to Belgium to be packaged and then shipped worldwide.

“Overall, the pharmaceutical industry in Singapore has not been affected by the pandemic,” George Lam, who heads the company’s manufacturing site in Singapore, told AFP during a visit.

“Because we are not affected, we continue to manufacture, we continue to export our drugs to global markets… A number of pharmaceutical companies in Singapore manufacture drugs that save lives. ”

The company’s operations in Singapore have not gone smoothly. Some of its workers found themselves stranded in neighboring Malaysia when the borders were closed, although the site managed to continue to operate.

The health of Singapore’s pharmaceutical sector is a rare bright spot for the city’s economy, as well as for global commerce.

The value of world trade is expected to fall by as much as 9% a year in 2020, according to United Nations forecasts, and leaders in the export-dependent city-state remain worried about the outlook.

“We expect the recovery next year to be gradual and uneven due to recurring waves of infection in other countries and uncertainties associated with the pace of vaccine production, distribution and immunization.” said Minister of Commerce Chan Chun Sing.

“We will not be going back to the pre-Covid world. ”

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