The future of pharmaceuticals in Singapore

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Over the past ten years, Singapore has evolved into a pharmaceutical and medical technology hub due to its world-class infrastructure, highly-skilled biomedical workforce and favourable government policy initiatives. Over 30 of the world’s top pharmaceutical and medical technology firms have established their manufacturing, R&D and headquarter functions in Singapore to identify new strategic business opportunities, and accelerate product innovation in Asia. These include Abbott, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis. 

Restructuring trends driving recruitment

The pharmaceutical industry in Singapore experienced a number of large scale mergers and acquisitions (M&A) over the past several years. Most recently, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novartis combined their Consumer Healthcare businesses to create a new joint venture in Singapore. GSK will also establish its global Asia headquarters in Singapore to oversee the Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines and Consumer Healthcare businesses in Asia. As a result, almost 150 global or regional roles moved to Singapore in the last year.

Although the nature of roles in Singapore’s pharmaceutical industry has remained unchanged, these roles have had to evolve and adapt to the above-mentioned restructuring activities amongst pharmaceutical companies in Singapore.

Skills required

Hiring managers increasingly require candidates to have strong scientific knowledge or background in pharmaceuticals. For example, Medical Scientific Liaison roles require candidates to develop relationships with key opinion leaders in the industry and preferably hold a medical degree to ensure that the candidate is able to effectively engage in peer to peer conversations with thought leaders in the industry.

Over the past ten years, Singapore has evolved into a pharmaceutical and medical technology hub...

The challenges ahead

As a leading biomedical hub in Asia, Singapore’s pharmaceutical roles now require more specialised skill sets to undertake more innovative research projects. Although the government is investing heavily in the development of specialised talent in this industry, there are still niche positions where there is a lack of suitable local manpower. Hence, Singapore’s ability to attract and retain highly skilled employees will pose a major challenge to future growth in the industry.

This challenge is also present in the emerging Asian markets such as Vietnam and Indonesia where the skills of the local talent pool have not caught up with the demands of companies moving into Asia. Another challenge faced by pharmaceutical companies is the potential losses due to patent expiration. As a result, these companies are investing more resources into research and development initiatives in order to replace old drugs with new ones.

Given the extensive investment put forward by the public and private sector, Singapore has the required expertise to tackle the challenges faced by the industry. Overall, Asia remains a significant source of growth for global pharmaceutical companies. Thus, one can expect global pharmaceutical firms to continue to leverage Singapore’s hub status to gain access to emerging market opportunities in Asia.

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