Partners Menarini to establish first Asia hub to lead non-invasive diagnostics in prenatal testing

October 2021, Singapore – The SingHealth Duke-NUS Maternal and Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) was launched at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) today by Masagos Zulkifli, Singapore’s Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for Health.

The MCHRI will serve as the centre of excellence for maternal and child health research, to transform and improve national health in Singapore. Its mission is to support the growth and development of every woman and child to their fullest potential, toward optimising Singapore’s human capital.

Through research with direct impact on patient care, innovation and digital strategies, the MCHRI seeks to advance reproductive, metabolic and mental health, cognitive development, and cures for cancer and critical diseases. It will also nurture a pipeline of researchers and establish key partnerships and collaborations, to support value-driven care for Singapore and an empowered future-ready workforce.

“The SingHealth Duke-NUS Maternal and Child Health Research Institute takes on a life-course approach for a more resilient community and to maximise human potential as a nation,” said Associate Professor Ng Kee Chong, Director, MCHRI and Chairman, Medical Board, KKH, “As we look at women’s and children’s health starting from the womb, and design the continuum of care from pregnancy to childbirth, infancy to childhood, and adolescence to adulthood, we are laying the foundations for transformation of our nation’s health, for today and generations to come.”

The MCHRI is a culmination of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Clinical Programmes (ACPs) for Paediatrics as well as Obstetrics and Gynaecology (O&G). Into their 10th year, both ACPs offer the largest specialist training programmes in Paediatrics and O&G locally. With a bench-to-bedside emphasis, each ACP develops clinician-scientists who not only treat and better the health of women and children, but also fulfils their potential as scientists, educators and innovators.

To mark this milestone, the MCHRI is partnering with Menarini Biomarkers Singapore (MBS), the diagnostics arm of Italy’s Menarini Group, to establish an Asia hub to advance research and development for healthcare biotechnology and diagnostics in the region. This will also be Menarini’s first such hub outside Europe.

Partnership with Menarini Biomarkers Singapore:
Paving the way for single-cell, non-invasive prenatal testing

MCHRI signed a memorandum of understanding with MBS to create a regional and international medical hub in Singapore for non-invasive diagnostics in prenatal and targeted therapies for better clinical outcomes.

MCHRI and MBS will pioneer clinical trials using cell-based, non-invasive prenatal diagnosis (CB-NIPD). The enhanced CB-NIPD process using Menarini proprietary technology is non-invasive, and carries minimal risks and discomfort to the pregnant woman.

With a needle prick and tiny amounts of blood from the mother, clinical teams can identify, isolate and analyse single cells with high precision. Using predictive biomarkers, doctors can isolate in real-time circulating fetal cells, and detect chromosome abnormalities in fetal cells circulating in the mother’s blood.

This is particularly beneficial for discovering genetic disorders in high-risk pregnancies. It will enable would-be parents and healthcare teams to make better decisions about the care for the child even before the child is born.

Maurizio Luongo, CEO of A. Menarini Asia-Pacific Holdings and Director of MBS said, "MBS is delighted to partner with MCHRI for this research and development project in Singapore, the first such partnership we have established outside the European Union. We are excited about the disruptive innovation that has the ability to isolate and analyse very rare circulating fetal cells in the blood of the mother. The new technique will transform prenatal diagnosis to provide a safer non-invasive procedure that can replace invasive procedures like amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS). The CB-NIPD process has the immense potential for broad based applications and can be a key tool for precision medicine applications, in particular in Oncology. We look forward to harnessing the strengths of both MCHRI and Menarini through this valuable partnership."

The collaboration with MBS will be for three years, till 2024.