Brunei: Simpor Pharma sets sight on Middle East market

Danial Norjidi – Borneo Bulletin

SIMPOR Pharma, Brunei’s first Halal pharmaceutical manufacturing company, has continued to make great strides forward, exporting its products abroad to multiple countries in Asia and North America, with an eye set on reaching even more markets, including the Middle East.

Simpor Pharma Sdn Bhd is a joint venture between Viva Pharmaceutical Inc of Canada and Strategic Development Capital Fund, one of Brunei’s private equity funds. With an investment value of over US$26 million, it is the country’s first Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Halal-certified contract manufacturer of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and cosmetic products.

The company’s pharmaceutical plant is the first in Brunei Darussalam, and is a 100,000 square foot manufacturing facility situated on a 7.5 acre plot within the Salambigar Industrial Park.

Production started at the plant in 2013. Simpor Pharma has the GMP-compliant capabilities of producing a wide range of innovative and tailor-made solutions for pharmaceutical products, health supplements as well as cosmetics.

The company’s vision is to become the global leader in the Halal industry for pharmaceutical products, health supplements, as well as cosmetics.

In terms of production capacities, it can produce 40 million softgel capsules per day, 50 million tablets per day, 324 tons of cream and liquid per annum, and 20,000 tonnes of powder and granular per annum.

The company’s progressive R&D Department has the capabilities and technologies to customise a formulation that suits any private label’s needs.

Speaking in an interview yesterday, Simpor Pharma Managing Director Edward Ko shared that the company currently has 56 employees, 34 of whom are local.

While holders of relevant degrees are hired for Quality Control and Quality Assurance jobs, high school graduates and technical graduates are also hired for production.

“We have interns, we also have training courses to train all employees. We provide all the training. For operators, we send them to Canada for training as well.”

Asked about the export markets that the company has managed to reach, he shared, “Canada, USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Singapore, and we are waiting for Thailand. We just signed an agreement with Thailand so we hope to export there soon. Also in Australia, we got a customer from there in September.”

Employees are seen working at a lab during a tour of the plant. - DANIAL NORJIDI

Employees are seen working at a lab during a tour of the plant. – DANIAL NORJIDI

On the number of products they produce, sell and export, he said, “We are producing somewhere around 80-100 different products already. For export, we’re exporting 25 different products to different countries.”

Locally, their products can be found at a number well-known supermarkets and pharmacies, he shared.

“The local market is mostly supplements, cosmetics and personal care products.

“Currently we are focused on the exports, with not a lot of attention on the local market. Gradually we are getting the Brunei Halal certification so we will try to reach the local market as well.”

Asked on the current status of the company’s Brunei Halal certification, he shared that so far the pharmaceuticals and some of the supplements have certification.

“We are now trying to get the Brunei Halal certification for the cosmetics. Because the cosmetics regulations for Brunei Halal being new (established just this year), we are still waiting for the guideline to submit our cosmetic application,” he said.

On the feedback from export markets with regards to having the Brunei Halal certification, he said, “Exporting to Singapore and North America, they don’t have any major requests on ‘Halal. Malaysia, like to have the Brunei Halal certification, they trust the Brunei Halal.”

Simpor Pharma will be exporting Paracetamol to Malaysia, with a first order of 300,000 tablets.

“It’s under the registration process right now.”

“The Middle East is our main target, especially those Halal countries. The problem is it’s currently under registration process, which takes one to two years.”

Sharing his thoughts on the business climate in Brunei since 2013, he said, “The ease of the shipping costs and regulation changes helped us a little bit. Of course, we want to see it a little bit more for us because we want it to be easier for us to exports and easier for us go through government processes.”

On what he feels needs changing or improving, he said, “Due to Brunei being a small country, it’s a very small economic centre, so shipping is a big problem for Brunei businesses, especially people who want to export. So in the future we want to see the government bring in more businesses, so that there will be more ins and outs, which will help us to reduce the cost of shipping and also provide more shipping choices.

“Currently we have the problem where the choice for shipping is very little, and the shipping cost is very expensive. We have a lot of shipping to Singapore, and customers keep complaining that the shipping costs are expensive,” he said, noting that there are also limitations when shipping by air.

“If in the future there is more business, then there could be a cargo jet, which will make it much easier for us to ship the products, and more business means that shipping it will become cheaper as well.

“When we first came here, we chose Brunei because it is very stable and a very friendly country. It’s very safe, with great nature. Those are the images for the company to set up a pharmaceutical company. We really like Brunei. Those images help us to market our own products.”

He noted that there were challenges.

“The infrastructure was not enough, the shipping costs were a little high and the shipping schedules were not stable, so that caused a bit of hassle to us. But gradually, things are improving, especially with the government bringing in the shipping line so there will be a more stable shipping schedule, which will be of much help to us to ship the products and get materials in.”

He also said that, in the beginning, the major challenge was gaining customers, because Brunei is not well-known as a country for producing pharmaceuticals, sharing that it was difficult to export their products because they didn’t have people’s trust.

However, he added, “This year, around August, we got US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) manufacturing license for drug and supplement. So during a tradeshow in Hong Kong, we gained a lot of customers. People see your license, they trust you, so we have a lot of orders, and it helped us quite a bit. We will still maintain these international licences to help us market our products.”

He also expressed hopes that more businesses will come in to Brunei that Simpor Pharma can make use of.

“For example, we need a printing company to print our labels, to print our boxes. We need a plastic company to make plastic boxes, bags, bottles. Those will be the supply chain in the future for us.”

Currently, Simpor Pharma imports these items from China and Taiwan.