The large-scale pharmaceutical facility in Tuas, Singapore, is Pfizer’s first manufacturing facility in the country.
The plant was proposed in 2000 as part of the first phase of Singapore’s biomedical science (BMS) initiative and produces a range of drug substances such as active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) for the global market.
The facility was designed to enhance Pfizer’s manufacturing network in what is expected to be the world’s fastest growing regional market over the next decade.
Manufacturing capacities in Singapore
More and more pharmaceutical companies are locating part of their manufacturing base to Singapore. The reasons for this are that operating costs and tax/financial incentives are considerably are slightly lower than the West and there is also an English-speaking, highly motivated and educated population from which to draw employees.
CEO and chairman of the board at Pfizer Dr Henry A. McKinnell said: “For our kind of business, which requires a well-educated, highly trained, good quality workforce, Singapore is a great place to invest.
“It is really good to see the Republic of Singapore take its rightful place in the world based on free markets and respect for the rule of law amongst other leading nations in global commerce, technology and, increasingly, biotechnology and medicine.
“Over the past half century, Pfizer has moved from an American-focused chemical manufacturing company to an international research-based pharmaceutical business to today, the world’s largest research-based healthcare company.
“Five years ago, we had 50,000 colleagues, today, we have 122,000 colleagues.”
Engineering and construction services for Pfizer’s facility in Singapore
In January 2001, Jacobs Engineering Group announced that Jacobs Lend Lease contracted with Pfizer to provide engineering and construction services for the new facility.
Headquartered in Singapore, Jacobs Lend Lease is a jointly owned subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering Group and Bovis Lend Lease. It specialises in the delivery of projects to the pharmaceutical sector in Singapore. The facility started construction on the 9ha site in Tuas Biomedical Park in Q1 2001 and was between 70% and 80% of capacity by July 2004.
The total cost of the project is believed to have been $340m (S$600m).
Pharmaceutical facility construction and design
Under the contract, Jacobs Lend Lease supplied engineering, procurement and construction management services. Front-end design and detailed engineering for the project was shared between the Jacobs Lend Lease offices in Cork (Ireland), and the company’s office in Singapore, with the Singapore office performing the full implementation of the project.
RSP Architects and Engineers of Singapore were also given a contract to take part in the design of the facility.
The Tuas plant operates to the highest possible international standards of good manufacturing practice (GMP), which also applies to the containment of active ingredients.
Nova Weigh supplied a range of weighing and containment equipment for the Tuas facility, including precision shear beam load cells built into the bin discharge stations, which monitor the quantity of material inside sealed intermediate bulk containers (IBC).
Elsewhere in the plant, Nova Weigh’s LoadMount vessel weighing systems are used to monitor and control the amounts of materials inside reactors and other process vessels while hygienic stainless steel platform scales have also been provided for dispensing duties.
Most of the equipment operates in areas zoned as potentially hazardous due to the presence of dust or solvents. To maintain the highest levels of personal safety, all of the equipment in these areas is specified as intrinsically safe. Nova Weigh has supplied in excess of 50 weighing systems to the Tuas facility.
Pfizer Tuas facility
Pfizer’s manufacturing facility at Tuas now employs more than 250 highly skilled technicians, engineers, chemists and other professional staff.
The fully automated plant consists of a general-purpose organic synthesis plant (OSP), which incorporates state-of-the-art API manufacturing technologies. In addition, there are also advanced process control systems, business and IT systems, and environmental protection technologies in place to ensure the optimal running of operations. The facility was strategically designed and constructed for maximum manufacturing flexibility.
It was designed with a number of features that contribute to protecting the natural environment, including solvent recovery systems, a wastewater treatment plant and a thermal oxidiser, which were all designed to conserve resources or minimise waste. The plant was built over a period of three years and began manufacturing operations in April 2004.
The Tuas facility will be a key node for the manufacture of the active ingredients used in Neurontin. Neurontin is indicated for the treatment of epilepsy and certain forms of neuropathic pain.
Pfizer Tuas will also produce Lyrica, which is currently under review by regulatory agencies for adjunctive treatment of epilepsy.
The plant was designed with expansion in mind. There is room within the existing building for additional reactors and related equipment.
Senior vice-president at Pfizer and president at Pfizer Global Manufacturing John W Mitchell said: “We built this plant here because Singapore is an ideal business hub with a solid infrastructure and an advanced communications system… The investment climate is also decidedly pro-business.”
The Singaporean pharmaceutical industry
Singapore has a history of interventionist government fostering domestic economic development. This strategy is sometimes given credit for the country’s remarkable transformation from an emerging market to a developed nation in the course of the last thirty years. The strategy has relied on the development of clusters of high-growth industries.
The Singaporean pharmaceuticals industry appears to be a cluster on the cusp of rapid growth. Like its predecessor, chemicals, the pharmaceuticals industry is being encouraged to group together to gain critical mass. A cluster allows companies to benefit from a shared pool of skilled labour, which is especially important in a high-technology business such as pharmaceuticals. It also allows the various companies to find ingredients with the minimum of transportation costs.
In addition, Singapore’s strategic position allows companies to look to the rapidly growing export markets of the Asian economies.
As the markets in the region recover from the financial crisis of 1997, and living standards improve, the demand for pharmaceutical products increases. All the advantages of clusters are expected to have the effect of making the pharmaceuticals cluster in Singapore a self-reinforcing phenomenon.
The Singaporean Government have set the goal of doubling Singapore’s biomedical manufacturing output from $12bn in 2006 to S$24bn within the next ten years with total employment of 15,000 people.