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S’pore still ‘compelling location’ despite spate of R&D closures

S’pore still ‘compelling location’ despite spate of R&D closures
Researchers doing their work in an A*Star lab at Biopolis. Photo: Trevor Tan
Firms rationalise operations after lapse of tax breaks, other govt incentives, analysts say
Published: 4:16 AM, April 10, 2015
Updated: 4:59 PM, April 10, 2015
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SINGAPORE — Even as several multinational pharmaceutical giants are setting up their regional headquarters here to much fanfare, some have quietly wound down their research investments in the Republic.

In the past five years, at least three major pharmaceutical companies have shut down their research and development (R&D) operations here. In 2010, American pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company closed its R&D unit of 130 staff, nine years after it was set up.

Three years later, United States-based Pfizer closed its clinical research unit, which was set up in 2000. It laid off 30 employees as a result.

Last year, British firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) ended its eight-year-old R&D operations at Biopolis.

Noting the timing of the closures, which came after the end of tax breaks and other incentives offered by the Government for starting operations here, analysts noted that given the high business costs, it was inevitable for some pharmaceutical companies to rationalise their operations after being here for a while.

“It may not be so visible immediately, but the trend is catching up,” said Dr Siddharth Dutta, industry manager for life sciences at Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific. “Talent is expensive in Singapore and when the Government grants and tax breaks come to an end, it only adds to the cost of research operation. Sometimes it is cheaper to acquire a regional company with promising pipeline molecule instead of having a dedicated R&D site.”

Mr Jason Humphries, managing director of Good Pharma Consulting in Singapore, added: “Government grants do influence investment decisions in R&D as pharmaceutical companies continue to revamp their research portfolios.”

Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Kevin Lai, executive director of biomedical sciences and consumer businesses at the Economic Development Board (EDB), said: “A pharmaceutical company’s decision to withdraw its R&D operations from Singapore is usually a global business decision and is taken as a result of reasons specific to the company. In most cases, Singapore is not the only location affected by the restructuring.”

He added that the statutory board works closely with affected companies to minimise the impact on the employees and to provide new employment opportunities in Singapore.

Mr Humphries pointed out that the Republic’s focus was clearly on getting pharmaceutical firms to set up their “control towers for regional and emerging markets”.

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