New plant in Tuas to produce diabetic drug

SINGAPORE - Drug giant Merck Sharp & Dohme will officially open a facility specialising in making the diabetic medication Janumet in Tuas later this year.

The plant is part of a US$250 million (S$316 million) agreement with the Singapore Economic Development Board made in 2011.

It calls for Merck Sharp & Dohme to expand manufacturing facilities over 10 years in addition to increasing biotech operations and technology capabilities here.

The company already has around 1,500 employees in Singapore - about 60 per cent local - and has invested about US$1.5 billion since setting up here in 1996.

As well as the new Tuas plant, these investments include its regional headquarters, a research centre in Biopolis and an animal health facility in Lim Chu Kang.

Chief executive Kenneth Frazier said last Thursday that the company's significant investments here represent its continuing commitment to Singapore as a medical "hub for the region and for the world".

The new plant, which is awaiting qualification before it starts production, will specialise in making Janumet, a two-in-one drug that targets insulin deficiency and resistance while reducing glucose overproduction.

It will be exported across Asia, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the world's diabetics today, and other markets around the world.

Dr Stanley Liew, deputy medical director of the Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, said Janumet is quite widely used here due to its "superior side-effect profile".

Unlike other diabetic drugs, it does not have side-effects such as weight gain or sudden drops in blood sugar levels, he added.

However, it is significantly more expensive at about $2 a day, compared with 50 cents a day for generic drugs.

Dr Liew said it could "potentially benefit a lot more people here if it were more affordable".

The Health Ministry estimates that one in nine Singaporeans between the ages of 18 and 69 suffers from diabetes.

Dr Liew said local production would "boost confidence" for the drug due to higher standards of quality control in Singapore.

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