Singapore now centre of GSK’s Asian ambitions

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has made Singapore the site of its new Asian headquarters that is scheduled to open in 2017 and will also house some staff from the US and UK.

The announcement comes after a difficult period for GSK in Asia, centring on the corruption scandal in China that resulted in a $487 million fine last year and saw dozens of staff sacked for misconduct.

GSK is keen to draw a line under that debacle and the opening of a new HQ in Singapore – where it already employs some 1,600 people in manufacturing, R&D and commercial operations compared to around 7,000 in China – will help it move on.

Singapore has emerged into a hub for pharma manufacturing in the last couple of decades thanks to its excellent and modern infrastructure and a high level of government support for the industry, and has been steadily growing in importance as an R&D site as well.

The island nation’s pharma market is fairly small at less than $1 billion, but its central location and close links with other Asian countries means its strategic importance belies its size.

The decision also reflects the fact that with Chinese economic growth slowing, other markets in Asia – including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand – have started to assume additional importance.

Those three markets alone collectively represented a pharma market in excess of $13 billion last year according to Business Monitor data and, while still dwarfed by China’s $98 billion drugs market, the south-east Asian market as a whole is expected to gain ground in the coming years.

GSK has signed a deal to develop and lease a new 15,000 sq. m, eight-storey building in the Rochester Park area of Singapore that is expected to complete construction towards the end of next year. The new HQ will cover all markets east of Turkey with the exception of Russia, said the company.

“In our experience and my own personal experience, Singapore excels in fostering talent, supporting business growth and offers an excellent base to access Asia,” commented GSK chief executive Sir Andrew Witty.

“This is why we are making a significant decision to further increase our presence in Singapore as we continue to modernise and advance GSK.”

GSK has over 700 office-based employees in Singapore and expects an additional 100 roles to move into the country as the headquarters nears completion. The new Asia headquarters would have “full corporate capabilities to allow faster and more effective decision making within the region” said the company.

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