SINGAPORE: By enhancing Singapore's capacity for manufacturing vaccines, the region will be more prepared for future pandemics and any economic fallout, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Apr 20).
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of Sanofi's evolutive vaccine facility in Tuas, Mr Heng noted that while the COVID-19 Omicron wave has receded, new variants of concern could still emerge.
"Even when COVID-19 is eventually behind us, we must anticipate and prepare for the next pandemic. 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," he added.
"By enhancing our capacity for manufacturing vaccines in Singapore, the region will be in a stronger position for dealing with future pandemics and the ensuing economic shocks.
"Locating vaccine production here will also allow us to push new frontiers of innovation in vaccine manufacturing, and in biomedical sciences more broadly."
FACILITY EXPECTED TO CREATE 200 JOBS IN SINGAPORE
French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi had announced last year that it would invest €400 million (S$637.8 million) in a new vaccine production site in Singapore.
Sanofi's APAC regional headquarters has been located in Singapore since 1997, noted Mr Heng, who is also the Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
The evolutive vaccine facility will be Sanofi's first vaccine manufacturing plant in Singapore, and is expected to create 200 new jobs in Singapore, he added.
"This is testament to your confidence in the value of such capability for the region, and the confidence in the partnership between France and Singapore," said Mr Heng.
The facility, which is expected to be at full production by end of 2025, is "fully digitalised, modular" and will be able to produce vaccines "on a large scale" for Asia, said Sanofi in a separate press release.
"Leveraging Singapore's position as a regional innovation hub for the healthcare industry, these 'factories of the future' are designed to enable more agile and flexible manufacturing of multiple vaccines and biological platforms, including mRNA, enzymes and monoclonal antibodies," the press release read.
The facility is conceptualised as one big unit, with multiple modules or docking stations located around the space, said Sanofi's head of vaccines Thomas Triomphe.
All the stations will be digital, and operators can, for example, order a “specific configuration” they need to manufacture a specific product, he explained. Everything needed for the orders will be automatically delivered by robots.
“It’s all based on the concept of flexible manufacturing … You can switch from one vaccine production to another one," said Mr Triomphe.
The facility will be able to protein recombinant vaccines such as the influenza vaccines, but also others like those that protect against pediatric diseases like the RSV vaccine, he added.
The flexibility of the facility also enables Sanofi to manufacture enzymes with “local antibody specificity” for the population in Asia, said Mr Triomphe.
As a fully digitalised facility, it will also be paperless, he added. The screens attached to each module will be linked to different sensors, which are plugged in to the manufacturing process. Operators can follow the process on the screens and be alerted when the products are ready.
CAPACITY FOR MASSIVE SCALE PRODUCTION
The drugmaker is investing €900 million over five years to create new evolutive vaccine facilities, with the other located in France.
The evolutive vaccine facility is designed to respond quickly to future pandemic risks, with the capacity to produce "at massive scale", said Mr Heng.
Typical vaccine manufacturing facilities are only able to produce one vaccine at a time, but the facility will allow for the production of three to four vaccines simultaneously, he added.
"This modularity and flexibility will allow the faster production of a vaccine when a public health crisis hits," said Mr Heng.
"In addition, the facility is designed to be carbon neutral, to be more resource efficient and to minimise waste production."
According to Sanofi, the carbon footprint of the new facility will be 40 per cent less than of a typical vaccine facility. It also is designed to use four times less water, nine times less energy, and 15 times less chemical products.
The volume of waste produced will also be 80 per cent less than that of a typical vaccine manufacturing facility.
Mr Triomphe described the last two years as a "significant learning experience" for the healthcare sector.
"Even as health systems have been challenged, we have seen the power of preventive care, especially vaccination, to help countries save lives and health systems, and make sure that the best resources are taken care of," he said.
Under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 commitment, Singapore has committed S$25 billion to the three areas in the coming years until 2025, Mr Heng noted.
Advanced manufacturing, including biopharma production, is a "priority area" for RIE2025, he added.
The Pharma Innovation Programme Singapore (PIPS) initiative under RIE2025 will be expanded to include biologics and vaccine manufacturers, Mr Heng announced.
A new programme named BIOPIPS will also be started to enable more companies to work on pre-competitive co-innovation, he added.
"As we seek to exit the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also looking ahead to prepare for Disease X," said the Deputy Prime Minister in closing.
"The upcoming evolutive vaccines facility will enhance our capacity for manufacturing vaccines locally and strengthen the region's position to withstand future pandemics or supply chain shocks," he added.
"As importantly, Sanofi's new factory will add to the growing biopharma community in Singapore, and enable us to further push the boundaries of vaccine manufacturing."