Global biopharmaceutical company Sanofi has committed to investing €400m ($476.4m) to establish a new vaccine production site in Singapore. In partnership with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), the company will invest over five years through its vaccine division Sanofi Pasteur.

This will be the first of Sanofi’s digitally enabled sites in Asia and will provide mass-distribution and faster pandemic responses to the Asian region. The facility’s design is set to exceed the manufacturing capacities of Sanofi’s current vaccine production sites in Europe and North America.

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“As a major healthcare player, it’s our responsibility to act and to meet the unprecedented growing demands for vaccines,” Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president and global head of Sanofi Pasteur, said in a statement. “We are very pleased by the strong collaboration with the Singapore EDB to achieve this exciting milestone.” 

As one of Sanofi Pasteur’s 12 global vaccine production facilities, it is expected to create 200 jobs locally and shore up Singapore’s well-established place in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. Facility designs are currently underway, with construction set to commence later in 2021 and operations expected to begin in 2026. 

Life sciences hub

Singapore’s status as a leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology global manufacturing hub is well-established, with many biopharma multinationals having based their Asian headquarters in the city state.

In 2020, some 12 greenfield foreign direct investment projects were announced in Singapore’s life sciences sector, totalling an estimated $358m in capital expenditure, according to investment tracker fDi Markets. Since 2015, Singapore has attracted 95 foreign life sciences projects, ranking second globally behind London, but exceeding other Asian cities such as Suzhou, Shanghai and Tokyo.

According to the EDB, eight of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies have facilities in Singapore, manufacturing four of the top 10 drugs by global revenue.

Ana Nicholls, managing editor of industry briefing at The Economist Intelligence Unit, tells fDi that “It makes sense that Sanofi would have chosen [Singapore] as a base for its vaccine plant, particularly given the political and coronavirus problems that have beset other possible locations, including India”.

“Singapore was already Sanofi’s Asia headquarters, with 500 employees, so basing manufacturing there will make it easier to scale up quickly and monitor operations without managers needing to travel,” she adds.

Alongside Sanofi, many other global pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Amgen and Novartis, have chosen Singapore as their global manufacturing base. Known for its talent pool, the sector now employs more than 6000 skilled workers in Singapore, which has doubled in number since the early 2000s, according to the EDB.

Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the EDB called this investment “an endorsement of Singapore’s position as a leading centre for advanced manufacturing.” Singapore has broken new ground in other areas such as food technology, when it became the first country worldwide to approve the sale of lab-grown meat in December 2020.

“Whether this will translate into more vaccine manufacturing is not clear, but it is possible,” Ms Nicholls points out. Pfizer has previously said that it will only look for sites outside the US and Europe after the pandemic is over, but it may rethink that in light of the recent surge in cases in parts of Asia, she remarks.

Sanofi’s vaccine portfolio includes 10 projects in advanced development – five projects for novel targets (including one Covid-19 mRNA vaccine) and five enhancements of existing vaccines –, according to its 2020 annual report.