Reasons to Choose a Pharmaceutical or Medical Device Manufacturing Career in Singapore

Singapore’s pharmaceutical and medical device industries have proven themselves to be a very strong and stable career option over the last decade.

It was in the mid-1990s that the Singaporean Government decided to make pharmaceutical manufacturing a key area for the country to focus on. And in the years since, the industry has gone from strength to strength – showing excellent growth and excellent job prospects.

So perhaps you’re considering starting a career in Singapore’s pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturing industries, here are 5 reasons why that could be a great career move…

1. The Pharma & Medical Device Industries Are Growing

Revenues of the pharmaceutical industry worldwide have shown consistent, increasing growth over many years.

Even in the most difficult recent financial times, the medical device and pharmaceutical industries have maintained this growth. In 2016, worldwide pharmaceutical revenues were over $1.1 trillion.

Industry experts expect this trend to continue (see graph below showing revenue (billions USD) that includes projected revenue for 2018 and 2021).

Graph showing increasing pharmaceutical revenues worldwide since 2001 and projected through 2021 suggest strong support for pharmaceutical career

More locally, from 2000 to 2010, Singapore was the 3rd placed country worldwide when analysing growth of pharmaceutical exports. Then, in 2011 alone, Singapore’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries grew by more than 30%.

In 2016, the pharma industry produced over S$16 billion worth of products – this was 3x the value produced in 2000.

So growth has been rapid.

More recently, medtech has been an additional area of focus in the country. There are now over 60 multinational medtech companies with operations in Singapore.

In terms of manufacturing productivity, one third of the world’s thermal cyclers and mass spectrometers are manufactured in Singapore, as well as 60% of the world’s microarrays.

Singapore’s growth has come not only from attracting new companies to manufacture here, but by supporting companies already here to diversify their operations and bring more of their business to the country. Recent examples include:

  • Amgen opened a manufacturing support office at the Tuas Biomedical Hub in 2018. This development brought the company’s total investment in Singapore to more than S$400 million.
  • In 2015, Abbott launched its Nutrition Pilot Plant in the Tuas South complex. This is only Abbot’s second R&D hub outside the US – and the first in Asia.
  • Smith & Nephew opened its Product Development Innovation Centre in Singapore in November 2016. This site is expected to “enable regionally based technology evaluation and development, early-stage product design, prototype feasibility and product testing”.
  • AbbVie opened a S$436 million manufacturing facility within the Tuas Biomedical Park, bringing 250 new jobs in 2016.

In total there are approximately 25 multinational medtech companies with an R&D presence in the county, and approximately 50 regional headquarters.

In pharma, 8 of the world’s top 10 companies have facilities in Singapore (and 4 of the world’s top 10 highest revenue drugs are manufactured here).

The country has also successfully encouraged a startup culture. The number of local drug development biotech startups more than doubled in the 6 years to 2017. There are now approximately 50 such companies in Singapore.

Currently, biomedical manufacturing is the 2nd largest contributor to the manufacturing sector in Singapore, and accounts for approximately 3% GDP. And growth looks set to continue…

In 2017, GlobalData valued Singapore’s pharmaceutical sector at $948 million. They went on predict that growth would mean that industry value would top $1 billion for the first time in 2019, and would rise to $1.2 billion in 2021.

In March 2018, Ho Weng Si the director of biomedical sciences for EDB commented that the,  “Outlook for the industry as a whole remains positive for the next few years”.

2. This Growth Has Led To Well Paying Jobs

Worldwide employment across the medical device and pharmaceutical industries has grown from 3.64 million in 2006, to 4.91 million in 2016.

In Singapore, the EDB estimate there are over 6000 people employed in the pharmaceutical industry, and there are a further 9000 employed in medtech.

More importantly for those considering a career change into pharmaceutical manufacturing, these jobs pay well…

A 2018 industry report highlighted that pharma industry remuneration was “one of the highest among all manufacturing sectors” at an average of S$102,000.

It was also estimated in the Willis Towers Watson’s 2018 Asia Pacific Salary Budget Planning Report that median salary increases for pharma industry employees across the region would be 0.2% higher than general industry.

3. A Focus On Innovation

What Singapore has done so successfully is begin by attracting companies to manufacture. Then they’ve looked to expand back along the value chain, attracting R&D through a host of initiatives.

In combination, this means that Singapore is now not only producing finished products, but taking an active role in innovation.

In 2016, Scientific American Worldview: A Global Biotechnology Perspective released a “scorecard of biotech innovative countries”. In these worldwide rankings, Singapore placed 2nd.

When compared against the same ranking from the year before, all countries in the top 5 remained the same but only Singapore had improved its ranking, to 2nd from 5th in 2015.

The rankings aggregate from a host of categories. Singapore actually placed 1st in the Enterprise Support and Policy & Stability categories.

More recently, in 2018, Singapore was ranked 5th on the Global Innovation Index.

This focus on innovation leaves Singapore well-placed to attract companies who are looking to enter or expand their presence in the medical technology sector.

4. They Avoid Cyclical Ups and Downs

As previously mentioned, even in the most difficult of financial times, the pharmaceutical and medical device industries have maintained success. They have not faced the same historical ups and downs of other industries.

Part of the strength of the pharma and medical device sector, as we discovered above, is the diverse nature of the current industries.

By attracting companies from manufacturing, all the way up the value chain to R&D, Singapore has made sure that its interests are well distributed. This breadth of activities, across such a small geographical location, makes it a very appealing prospect for companies.

The government has taken the lead in promoting this “cluster”. From initiatives such as the dedicated manufacturing sites like the Tuas Biomedical Park (and the infrastructure to support them), to the presence of several big public-sector research institutions (and even some public-private research institutions), Singapore is an attractive offer to companies.

For more information about the cluster effect and its impact in Singapore, see this article.

5. You Can Leverage Your Previous Work Experience

There can often be a misunderstanding about the skills needed to successfully begin a career in pharmaceutical or medical manufacturing.

These things are not always needed:

  • Lab experience
  • A science or engineering degree
  • Previous medical device or pharmaceutical experience

Also useful are:

  • Manufacturing work experience from a different industry
  • Engineering work experience from a different industry
  • Maintenance experience
  • Technical skills gained in other industries

With some of these “alternative” backgrounds, you may need to gain some industry-specific knowledge before you could realistically get in a job in pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturing. But you might be a lot closer than you think to being a great candidate.

What Are The Next Steps?

If you want to know more about the industry check out the rest of the resources in our Industry and Job Hunting page.

If you think you’d be a good fit for a career in pharma, take this quick quiz to figure out what types of jobs you’d be suitable and which, if any, additional courses you’d need to get you industry-ready.

Of course, if you have any specific questions or would like to talk to someone about your options, get in touch with us for an informal chat.