GlaxoSmithKline affirms importance of operations in Singapore

A TOP executive at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) says Singapore will remain an important contributor to its global revenue as the group shifts its focus towards Asian-Pacific markets.

In an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, its president for Europe and emerging markets and Asia Pacific, Mr Abbas Hussain, said Singapore's pro-business environment means the Republic is "a significant second home" to the company.

His comments followed the company's global release of its fourth-quarter results on Wednesday. Last year, the global company posted a 1 per cent dip in sales compared to the year before, bringing global turnover to £26.4 billion (S$51.7 billion).

Mr Hussain, a 25-year veteran of the pharmaceutical industry who joined GSK five years ago, attributed this mainly to a series of drug patents expiring in the US, and continued sluggishness in European markets.

The company is in the process of shifting its global focus from "white pill" Western markets, where drug patent expiry often results in abrupt revenue drops, to emerging markets in the Asian- Pacific market, said Mr Hussain.

GSK's operations in emerging markets and Asia-Pacific have posted double-digit growth rates for the past five years - in the fourth quarter of last year, its business in the region grew by 16.5 per cent over the same period a year earlier.

GSK hopes to take advantage of the region's growing middle class and its demand for high- quality drugs, said Mr Hussain.

One of the pioneers in Singapore's pharmaceutical sector, GSK set up its first manufacturing plant here in Quality Road back in 1972.

It has invested $1.6 billion in Singapore to date, and now employs about 1,200 staff here in its research and development facility and four manufacturing plants.

GSK spends about $20 million per year on research and development in Singapore.

Its Asian and emerging markets headquarters here is also responsible for 45 per cent of the company's total revenue.

While cost-efficiency is a perennial issue the company constantly grapples with, the "real challenge" GSK faces in Singapore centres on human capital, said Mr Hussain.

"Our goal is not only to tap into Singaporean talent... but also to deploy them to markets around the region, as that really expands your development and mindset," he said.

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