Riding the Life Sciences Hiring Wave in APAC

Kayleigh Regan examines drivers behind the growth of the life sciences industry in Singapore and trends dominating the sector’s hiring landscape. 

By Kayleigh Regan | 14 July 2022

Recruitment veteran Kayleigh Regan, APAC Head of EPM Scientific (a Phaidon International brand), examines the drivers behind the growth of the life sciences industry in Singapore and how you can make the most out of it.

In a report by CBRE last year, Singapore was named one of APAC’s top five life sciences hub, where there is significant demand among life science companies for corporate offices, logistics facilities, research and development (R&D) laboratories and manufacturing facilities. Just within the last few months, we have seen Hilleman Laboratories begin construction on a plant, Pathomics Health announce the expansion of laboratory operations, and Sanofi break ground on a $638 million vaccine facility. 

With this comes an increase in demand for talent to be based in APAC to open offices, run operations, conduct breakthrough research, and grow businesses in the region. 

At EPM Scientific, we have seen a rising number of biotechnology, medical device, and pharmaceutical companies reaching out for urgent hiring needs. It is not uncommon for candidates to handle five offers at a time, and salaries have surged by around 20% over the last 12 months as companies vie to secure the best talent. 

Key trends and strands in Singapore’s life sciences

As a leading tech hub, Singapore continues to see an increasing number of biotechnology firms and clinical research organisations (CROs) joining the fray. The city is home to over 6,000 researchers from institutes and laboratories leading research into every aspect of health imaginable, from vaccines to oncology to dementia. 

There are a couple of key trends in Singapore’s life sciences industry that are worth noting. 

Preventive healthcare continues to demand skilled talent

Beyond accelerating demand for COVID-related healthcare, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of advancing preventive healthcare at large.  

MiRXES, a Singapore-based biotechnology company that has played a role in fighting COVID with their testing kits, has also made significant strides in early cancer detection. Their flagship product GASTROclear uses microRNA as a biomarker to test for early-stage gastric cancer through a blood test – a world first. In July 2021, the company secured US$87 million in funding, bringing its valuation to over US$500 million. 

MiRXES has developed groundbreaking innovations with RNA-based early detection tests, including GASTROclear (right) – the world’s first molecular blood test for early detection of gastric cancer before symptoms appear.

With the battle against the pandemic still ongoing, the region will continue to pursue innovative ways of detecting and combating the virus. This has created a knock-on effect of accelerating innovation in preventive healthcare, which further drives demand for talent in the field – presenting ample opportunities for skilled candidates to grow their careers. 

High demand for digital expertise as tech integration deepens

Digitalisation of the industry is another major trend that is transforming the hiring landscape in life sciences. Companies are incorporating analytics to manage outbreaks and population health, blockchain to securely transfer patient records, automation to expedite scheduling and communication, sensors to monitor health parameters and 3D printing to create prosthetics and replicas.  

Out of these emerging technologies, one that is coming to the fore is personal genomics, or more specifically, the use of next-generation sequencing (NGS) to analyse our genes and detect health implications that might arise later in life. This advancement allows patients to determine the likelihood of developing a wide range of infectious diseases, immune disorders and inherited illnesses.  

This is a field that is booming in life sciences marketing, with global firms such as Thermo Fisher and local players like A*STAR and MiRXES pushing to be at the forefront of the market. The common challenge with all companies in this area is hiring talent with the requisite skills to work in NGS, which typically requires a PhD and a background in molecular biology. 

Overall, digitalisation has changed the profile of talents companies seek in today. As tech integration continues to mature, candidates with suitable digital expertise are increasingly sought after – whether or not they have prior experience in the life sciences field. This presents a great opportunity for mid-careerists looking to switch industries to join the life sciences industry. Digitalisation also calls for research talent to helm pilot studies and clinical trials in order to introduce these new technologies. 

Why Singapore is a top-ranked biomedical hub

Singapore is often leveraged as an ideal locale for global life science firms to establish their regional headquarters and expand into Southeast Asia and APAC – eight of the top ten global pharmaceutical companies such as GSK, Roche and AbbVie have major operations here. There are three major factors driving this influx of industry giants: (1) strong government support, (2) favourable business regulations, and (3) high concentration of research talent.  

The Singapore government provides significant support for the life sciences industry, funnelling funds into the growth of local firms and technology. The Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan committed US$3 billion to health and biomedical sciences, including research grants and salary support for scientists and clinicians. Infrastructure-wise, Singapore’s well-established life science clusters – Biopolis and Tuas Biomedical Park – congregate cutting-edge innovators and foster collaborative relationships. 

Singapore’s extensive research ecosystem, talent training programmes, and pro-business environment are also happy to welcome international firms. In fact, multinational firms that set up in Singapore contribute to its growth in both manufacturing – biomedical output totalled US$24 billion in 2020 – and innovation, where there is a consistent proliferation of R&D facilities and projects.  

On top of this, Singapore has developed a high concentration of research talent that drives breakthrough innovation. According to a Cambridge report, Singapore employed 128 researchers per 100,000 residents in 2018, five times the number hired in the US. This strong community of researchers continues to be a draw for top-tier talent from around the world.  

It is worth noting, as well, that the Singapore market does not only comprise international players. One of the top local research institutes is A*STAR, which boasts world-class laboratories and numerous spin-offs – such as MiRXES, Celligenics, and Ants Innovate – that are developing into innovative leaders in their own right. These rising stars contribute to the flourishing of the life sciences scene, which in turn attracts the entry of global companies and professionals. 

A*STAR, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, is an innovation leader in areas such as vaccines, genomics, and food technology.

Why you should grow your career in APAC

For life science professionals, APAC offers an opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation while impacting a rapidly growing market – the biopharmaceutical market alone is projected to reach US$65 billion by 2026. The region is witnessing a rising confluence of top-notch talent driving the development of revolutionary technologies on a daily basis.  

As hiring demand grows, requirements tend to become more flexible. Even among technical hires – in clinical research, technical sales, quality assurance, process engineering, and so on – we have seen individuals crossing over from related sectors such as chemicals, electronics and engineering, and not necessarily having a life science background. 

Moreover, job opportunities are rich beyond traditional research roles; you do not necessarily need a biomedical degree to get started in the field. Demand for talent is also escalating across finance, operations and regulatory functions. Since life science companies are aggressively entering the APAC market with their products and technologies, there is a great demand for commercial staff – these include product or brand managers, commercial directors, and digital marketers that help companies establish a stronger presence online. Market access managers, a fairly new job title that has emerged within the last 12 months, are hired to focus solely on breaking into new markets. 

One of the most attractive reasons to grow your career in Singapore or Asia Pacific is salary. Monetary compensation in the sector is highly competitive across both junior and senior positions and has been rising considerably over time. Over the last 18 months or so, it has developed into a candidate-driven market, with an average base salary increase of 15 to 20%. (Further details may be found in EPM Scientific’s Life Sciences Industry Salary Snapshot 2022, where we gathered data from over 1,000 professionals in the sector.) 

Singapore has developed a strong research community in the life sciences that attracts global talent.

Riding the expansion wave in life sciences

Looking ahead, we expect to see the life science industry in Singapore continuing to expand, with more companies from the Western world entering the market. There is more opportunity than ever for talented professionals to grow businesses in APAC, helping them to lead operations and expand into new markets. 

Local competitors will also be vying for fresh talent as they seek to develop novel technologies that they can scale globally to compete with international players. Either way, there is a great amount of opportunity for professionals to tap on to grow their careers and ride the expansion wave of this burgeoning industry. 

An important trait that will help you excel in this market is a true passion for helping people and making a difference in our world. From our observation, the most influential individuals in this space are those who truly believe in the product or service and the greater mission that they serve. 

If you are keen to find out more about how you can join the life science industry or move up in your career, reach out to our team. At EPM Scientific, we are open to speak with professionals who want to learn more about the market in Asia Pacific and what it takes to be truly successful in it.  

About Kayleigh

With over 6 years of experience in recruitment across APAC, Europe and the US, Kayleigh holds two positions at Phaidon International in Singapore: Associate Director (Head of APAC) at EPM Scientific and Associate Director (APAC) at LVI Associates, covering the life sciences and infrastructure/energy sectors respectively. 

Connect with her here

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