Scientists and Clinicians Collaborate on 8 Projects to Better Understand and Treat Diseases Prevalent in Asia
2012-11-09 12:41:12 -
Singapore announces 8 biomedical sciences research programmes to advance understanding and treatment of diseases especially prevalent amongst the Asian population. These programmes will see biomedical scientists and clinicians working collaboratively to bring about greater healthcare benefits to society and create economic growth for Singapore. These programmes were endorsed by the Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council chaired by Sir
Said Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Co-Chair of the Biomedical Sciences Executive Committee (BMS EXCO) and Chairman of A*STAR, "The collaborations will see a convergence of talent, capabilities and resources of the basic science and clinical communities. This augurs well for Singapore as a research hub, as our distinctive value proposition depends on our ability to coordinate and integrate our research efforts along the innovation value chain, as well as across multiple research organizations."
Some Research Programs
Four programmes supported under the A*STAR Biomedical Research Council's Strategic Positioning Fund, totalling about $58 million over 3 years, were endorsed by the BMS IAC. One of the programmes is POLARIS, which represents a concerted effort by Singapore to venture into stratified medicine. POLARIS aims to administer the right therapies to the right patient at the right time. Led by Professor Patrick Tan from the Genome Institute of Singapore, the programme will leverage on A*STAR's scientific capabilities to identify new biomarkers and technologies that can predict how well patients will respond to medical treatment, as well as how their disease will progress.
POLARIS will substantially reduce the cost of healthcare for patients for whom certain types of medication and treatments are not appropriate, and also reduce the danger of toxicity arising from consuming medicine that is unsuitable for them. POLARIS will also work with leading clinicians in the public healthcare institutes to modify existing clinical care methods and refine stratified healthcare delivery approaches for oncology, eye disease and other chronic diseases prevalent in Singapore.
The programme can help to enhance Singapore's attractiveness to companies seeking to develop medical products for the Asian market as they could potentially in-license promising biomarkers at a more mature stage of clinical validation for product development and marketing.
Said Professor Soo Khee Chee, Deputy Group CEO (Education & Research), SingHealth, and Director, National Cancer Centre Singapore: "The POLARIS initiative will help clinicians determine the right diagnosis and treatment for the right patient. One of the projects we're embarking on with POLARIS is to identify new biomarkers for lung cancer that are specific to our Asian population. Lung cancer is among the top three cancers here and is often difficult to treat. These biomarkers will enable clinicians to better understand patients' disease and tailor an individual treatment strategy. In addition, with this new knowledge, we can drive the development of drugs that have greater benefits for our patients."
Prof Ng Huck Hui, Executive Director of the Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR, said, "POLARIS is about patient-driven research that will have direct and immediate impact on patient treatments as well as future impact on the identification of new biomarkers. Such collaborations with the clinical community allow us to bring our research expertise and capabilities from the laboratories right into the heart of healthcare for the benefit of patients and society."
- Genetic Orphan Diseases
Another programme, Genetic Orphan Diseases led by Dr Bruno Reversade from Institute of Medical Biology, aims to study rare genetic diseases in order to better understand common disease targets and complex disease processes. By identifying mutations in genes responsible for rare diseases, the researchers will be able to discover key biological processes which contribute to more common diseases.
The Genetic Orphan Diseases programme presents a different and exciting approach to discovering new cures for common diseases. The three main areas of focus are skin, cardiovascular, and neurological and cognitive disorders. It has already received strong interest from scientists, clinicians and drug companies.
- Translational and Clinical Research (TCR) Flagship Programme
Four TCR Flagship grants administered by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) under the Ministry of Health (MOH), amounting to a total of $68 million, were announced at this year's BMS IAC. This includes two of the existing Flagship programmes, in eye diseases and gastric cancer, which received renewed funding of $25 million for a period of five years each.
The four TCR Flagship programmes are large-scale "all the way" thematic programmes spanning basic, translational and clinical research which seek to translate laboratory discoveries into meaningful applications for patients. Each programme brings together complementary strengths from across the biomedical research community, to undertake cutting edge research in diseases of strategic importance to Singapore.
Mrs Tan Ching Yee, Co-Chair of the BMS EXCO and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health said, "MOH recognises the value that research can bring to addressing Singapore's healthcare challenges. These stem from our rapidly ageing population and changing lifestyles that will see a rise in chronic diseases. I am pleased to note that the TCR Flagship grants will go a long way to support the good work of our clinician scientists and I look forward to greater synergy and dynamic and meaningful collaborations among our healthcare institutions, industry and our partners such as A*STAR."
- $25 million TCR Flagship Programmes
The Eye Surgery and Innovative Technologies (EyeSITe) programme is led by Principal Investigator Professor Donald Tan Tiang Hwee, Medical Director of the Singapore National Eye Centre and the Singapore Eye Bank, and Professor of Ophthalmology, NUS. He is also the Chairman of the Singapore Eye Research Institute where the programme is hosted. EyeSITe aims to provide new clinical therapies to aid in alleviating ocular morbidity from major eye diseases, including corneal disease, infection, glaucoma, refractive errors and retinal disorders. Corneal diseases and glaucoma are two of the major causes of blindness worldwide.
This programme builds on the successes of the TRIOS Programme (Translational Research Innovations in Ocular Surgery) which was awarded a TCR Flagship grant in 2008. In the course of four years, the team has established five sub-programmes that have shown promising scientific results, clinical outcomes and commercial potential which the new programme will be leveraging on.
Another programme that received the $25 million TCR Flagship grant is the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium (SGCC) - Redefining the Management of Gastric Cancer, led by Principal Investigator Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, Dean of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore. Gastric (or stomach) cancer is a leading cause of global cancer mortality, accounting for about 700,000 deaths worldwide and is particularly prevalent in East Asia and Singapore.
Over the past five years, the team has excelled in translating basic science to clinical research and vice versa. The current award will allow SGCC to transition from a programme of "Improving Outcomes for Our Patients" to one of "Re-defining the Management of Gastric Cancer".
- $9 million TCR Flagship Programmes
In addition to the $25 million programmes, for the first time, NMRC launched another tier of TCR Flagship grants where two programmes each received $9 million of funding for a period of five years. The grant recipients are: Genetic Predilection, Epigenetic Change, MicroRNA Profiling and Experimental Therapies in Heart Failure (Lead Principal Investigator: Professor Arthur Mark Richards, Director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute, National University Heart Centre), and Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer: Targeting Cancer Stem Cell and Drug Resistance (Lead Principal Investigator: Associate Professor Tan Eng Huat, Senior Consultant, Department of Medical Oncology, and Head, Division of Clinical Trials and Epidemiological Sciences, National Cancer Centre Singapore).
Progress of BMS Efforts
The BMS IAC commended Singapore for its BMS efforts in basic research and TCR in the past 12 years, and lauded Singapore for its efforts on converging its talent, R&D capabilities and resources for impact.
Over the past five years, MOH's investment in TCR has generated promising results which have made a positive impact on healthcare. Among these are the development of innovative treatments and devices such as the world's first robotic flexible endoscopy system featuring a pair of robotic arms for surgeons to cut away tumours in the digestive tract by passing them through natural openings such as the mouth. Using this system allows for surgery which leaves no scars, inflicts lesser pain and facilitates faster recovery.
Another example is the development of better ways to stratify dengue patients by their disease severity, allowing for treatment to be more focused and cost effective, thus resulting in significant healthcare cost savings. Other studies which have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of public health have also been launched. These include a large study investigating how mothers' diet and lifestyle during pregnancy influence child development, and following on the children's progress as they grow older. It is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind ever done in the world.
Sir Richard Sykes said, "I have been impressed by how far Singapore has come in its biomedical sciences journey in all of 12 years. Now that Singapore is in the third phase of its BMS Initiative with the greater emphasis on convergence for economic and health outcomes, I believe we can expect to see Singapore attracting more pharma, biologics, medtech, personal care and nutrition companies here. The attendant social benefits will come from having early access to cost-effective and novel health solutions."
On a macro level, the BMS Initiative has made significant impact and contributed much to the economy. The BMS manufacturing output for 2011 was $27 billion. This was more than four times the output of $6.3 billion when we started in 2000. In terms of BMS's share of Singapore's total manufacturing output, it was nearly 10% in 2011 - an increase from 4% in 2000. The Compound Annual Growth Rate or CAGR of the BMS output from 2000 to 2011 was 14%. This reflects the strong and steady growth in this sector. In 2011, BMS also accounts for about 22.4% of the total manufacturing value-added in Singapore or $12.9 billion in value-added. This was a significant increase from the value added of $3.8 billion in 2000. Business expenditure on BMS R&D grew to $574m in 2011, from $47m in 2000.
In terms of employment, in 2011, there were over 15,000 people employed in manufacturing in the BMS sector - more than 2.5 times the number of 6000 employed in 2000. In addition, there were over 5,500 people employed in R&D jobs in the fields of biomedical and related sciences. Of that number, more than 45% or 2,500 of them had PhDs, suggesting high value-added jobs were created in this sector.
Today, over 100 global biomedical sciences companies, including pharmbio and non-pharmbio companies, have leveraged Singapore's world-class manufacturing capabilities, excellent clinical and scientific infrastructure, connectivity to Asian markets and pro-business environment to carry out strategic business operations, cutting-edge research and manufacturing in Singapore. Some of these companies are: Abbott Laboratories, Chugai, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, L'Oreal, Novartis, Procter & Gamble and Roche. The presence of MNCs and their significant investments in R&D are a testimony of the excellent progress made by Singapore in its BMS thrust.
Please see the press release, including information on the POLARIS Initiative, the Genetic Orphan Diseases Programme and other programmes awarded grants under the Strategic Positioning Fund, at www.a-star.edu.sg/?TabId=828&articleType=ArticleView&articleId=1737.
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that fosters world-class scientific research and talent to drive economic growth and transform Singapore into a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation driven economy. In line with its mission-oriented mandate, A*STAR spearheads research and development in fields that are essential to growing Singapore's manufacturing sector and catalysing new growth industries. A*STAR supports these economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. A*STAR oversees 20 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis as well as their vicinity. These two R&D hubs house a bustling and diverse community of local and international research scientists and engineers from A*STAR's research entities as well as a growing number of corporate laboratories. For more information about A*STAR, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg .
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