BioNTech buys Novartis plant in Singapore, will retrofit for mRNA vaccine production

The rush is on as biopharma companies from the west are flocking to Asia and, more specifically, to business-friendly Singapore in their hopes of tapping into a massive and growing market.

Monday, BioNTech revealed more about its plan to establish a stronghold on the island nation, saying it had acquired a manufacturing facility from Novartis, which will also serve as its Asia-Pacific regional headquarters.

Eighteen months ago, the Germany-based company unveiled its plan to expand its footprint with a mRNA manufacturing facility supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board.

The facility will be the first in Singapore dedicated to the production of mRNA products. BioNTech did not reveal financial details of the acquisition.

The plant will be fully operational by late 2023 and will have the capacity to produce several hundred million doses of mRNA-based vaccines annually, BioNTech said. The company plans to employ more than 100 there by 2024 and is already recruiting for jobs in engineering, operations, quality control, finance, human resources and supply chain management.

The site is in the Tuas Biomedical Park, the epicenter of biopharma activity in Singapore. Last month, Merck opened a new secondary packaging facility in the complex and broke ground on another plant that will produce inhalers and is set for completion in 2026.

Singapore has recently become a hotbed for biopharma manufacturing. Before the coronavirus pandemic, GSK was the only company with a vaccine plant in the country. In April, however, Sanofi began construction on a $434 million vaccine plant, which will add to its already significant presence in the country.

BioNTech's purchase is not its first of a Novartis plant. In September of 2020, as its COVID vaccine was being developed, the company bought a Novartis manufactuing facility in Marburg, Germany. 

Last year, the company reported revenue of 19 billion euros, almost entirely from sales of its COVID-19 mRNA vaccine which it co-developed with Pfizer. This year, the company is projecting revenue of 16 billion to 17 billion euros ($16 billion to $17 billion). Its goal is to explore the full range of mRNA possibilities, developing other types of vaccines along with other medicines including cell therapies.