SingHealth and A*STAR to advance medical research in diabetes; immunotherapy and drug development; and precision medicine 

  • Strategic partnership sees Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster joining forces with Singapore’s leading public sector research agency 

  • The SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre also launched a new academic research facility to develop infectious disease drugs and vaccines

Singapore, 8 December 2017 – SingHealth and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) today announced a strategic research partnership focused on three areas: Smart Health for diabetes, pursuing innovations in immunotherapy and drug development, and precision medicine. The partnership seeks to address prevalent diseases in Asian populations that carry a heavy economic burden, improve healthcare delivery and create value for the economy. Mr S. Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), witnessed the inking of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organisations today. 

Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth said, “By bringing together the best minds in medicine, science and technology, we hope to accelerate the translation of research from the bench where scientific discoveries are made, to the bedsides of our patients. This will improve disease prevention, diagnoses and treatments to benefit patients and the population.” 

Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman, A*STAR said, “It is important for A*STAR to partner with the clinical community, to ensure that A*STAR’s upstream and translational research can bring about tangible healthcare and economic benefits to society. This MOU represents a step up in the relationship between A*STAR and SingHealth, as we go beyond the many extant collaborations to a more strategic, forward-looking partnership, with a focus on key areas that are impacting healthcare and medicine today.” 

Boosting healthcare and the economy through three focus areas 

In Singapore, diabetes is a serious health concern. One in nine Singapore residents aged 18 to 69 years are currently diagnosed with diabetes, and this number is predicted to rise to nearly one million by 2050. 

The SingHealth-A*STAR partnership will establish a “Diabetes Clinic of the Future” by combining patient data and clinical expertise from SingHealth, with medical technology, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and advanced imaging capabilities from A*STAR. The Diabetes & Metabolism Centre on Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Campus will be used as a living lab to establish the “Clinic of the Future”, with opportunities for tech developers and industry experts to trial their innovations alongside SingHealth and A*STAR clinicians and researchers. 

The Clinic will utilise smart technologies to improve diabetes care across the disease continuum, from risk prediction to the monitoring, treatment and management of diabetes. Technologies introduced could include mobile applications or remote monitoring technologies which can help to track the nutritional intake, glucose levels, and fitness levels of at-risk (pre-diabetic and diabetic) populations, to help them better manage and take charge of their health. 

Due to the rising incidence of patients developing diabetic complications such as end-stage renal failure, lower limb amputation and even blindness, the “Diabetes Clinic of the Future” will also facilitate crucial and timely clinical interventions that address pressing challenges in diabetes care, with the introduction of measures such as wound monitoring technologies and deep learning systems that can screen for diabetic complications like retinopathy. 

Another focus area under the research partnership is Immunotherapy and Drug Development. A*STAR and SingHealth have many complementary capabilities in immunology, immunotherapy, cancer research and treatment. The MOU will bring these capabilities together under a joint SingHealth-A*STAR immunotherapy platform that will harness the latest technologies to enhance biomarker identification and drug discovery, with the aim to bring drugs to the clinic more quickly. A*STAR and SingHealth will also seek to partner local biotech companies to develop and test new immunotherapy drug combinations. 

Precision Medicine uses each patient’s biological data to more precisely predict, diagnose or treat diseases. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it allows doctors to tailor treatment that is optimal to improve patient care outcomes. 

Under the partnership, SingHealth and A*STAR will integrate data from various sources into a central database and work together to expand their bioinformatics and data analytics capabilities. A research team from A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII) already embedded in SingHealth’s SGH campus has started analysing data on cancer and heart disease. This has the potential to better develop precision medicine approaches that can be applied in the clinics. 

Building disease outbreak response capabilities 

Today’s event also saw the launch of the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre at SingHealth Duke-NUS (ViREMiCS), a new academic research facility in the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre that aims to accelerate the development of drugs and vaccines for infectious diseases. ViREMiCS is supported by a generous $2 million gift from the Tanoto Foundation. 

ViREMiCS will use novel molecular tools and technologies to shorten clinical trial processes, and work with industry collaborators and regulators to bring new drugs and vaccines more quickly to those in need during epidemics and disease outbreaks.