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 global pharmaceutical industry is constantly evolving and the rise of personalised healthcare is driving the need to increasingly produce targeted medicines. To help drug-makers and the wider manufacturing sector accelerate change, the Singapore government introduced the Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (Pips) in late 2018. 

Although the technical aspect of roles in Singapore's pharmaceutical industry has largely remained unchanged, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly seeking talent who have more than just technical knowledge or specialised expertise to stay ahead of the ever-evolving market.

Skills required

In addition to strong scientific knowledge or background in pharmaceuticals, hiring managers increasingly require candidates to possess soft skills such as communication, innovation and critical thinking abilities to ensure they are able to adapt to the constantly evolving market. For example, Medical Scientific Liaison roles require candidates to preferably hold a medical degree - and have the right communication skillsets - to ensure he or she is able to effectively engage in peer to peer conversations and develop relationships with thought leaders in the industry.

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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