A*STAR and SingHealth to collaborate on big data for precision medicine and smart technologies for tackling diabetes
A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) and SingHealth signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) today to find solutions for local and global healthcare challenges, and create value for Singapore’s economy. A*STAR is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research, while SingHealth is the largest healthcare group in Singapore with 2 tertiary hospitals, 5 national specialty centres, a network of polyclinics and a community hospital.
The scientific and technical capabilities of A*STAR’s eighteen research institutes will complement SingHealth’s extensive healthcare expertise and resources, to enable seamless transition of cutting-edge healthcare discoveries and applications from bench to bedside.
The collaboration will leverage a combined talent of over 4,500 A*STAR researchers, engineers, technical support staff, as well as about 20,000 doctors, nurses and allied health professionals at SingHealth. This also includes a pool of around 400 clinician-scientists and clinician-investigators adept at both science and medicine. They will help bridge the gap between upstream research discovery and downstream clinical application.
The MOU that will be signed today builds on a history of successful collaborations, such as identifying new drug targets for advanced kidney cancer and the Asian Network for Translational Research and Cardiovascular Trials (ATTRaCT), a programme dedicated to deepening understanding of cardiovascular disease progression in heart failure.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, Mr. S Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), said, “The rich network of collaborations across our R&D ecosystem has enabled us to harness the strengths of individual agencies and organisations, and set the stage for impactful societal outcomes. I commend A*STAR and SingHealth for taking the lead in forging a more collaborative BMS research ecosystem with the signing of this MOU, and look forward to significant healthcare and economic outcomes from this enhanced partnership between the two organisations.”
The MOU focuses on three key areas: (i) harnessing big data in precision medicine; (ii) utilising smart health in a diabetes clinic of the future; and (iii) innovation in immunotherapy and drug development.
Big Data for Precision Medicine
First, A*STAR and SingHealth will focus on harnessing big data in precision medicine. Precision medicine entails the use of detailed patient phenotyping (it is the process of predicting an organism’s phenotype or observable characteristics/ traits using only genetic information from genome sequencing), to provide more accurate diagnoses and targeted treatment options for patients, as well as more precise forecasting of disease progression and disease risk prediction.
Effective implementation of any precision medicine initiative requires the ability to consolidate and analyse the exponentially growing volume of patient data that is available to the medical practitioner. The MOU will bring together A*STAR’s bioinformatics and computational capabilities, and SingHealth’s clinical expertise, to integrate data from various databanks into a central database for analysis and subsequent precision medicine application.
A*STAR’s Bioinformatics Institute (BII) and the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Precision Medicine (PRISM) have already begun integrating cardiovascular and cancer data into a central database, with a BII satellite office embedded in SingHealth’s SGH campus for closer cooperation.
The consolidated data will be harnessed by researchers from both organisations for joint projects and leveraging data-driven genomics for more precise diagnoses and treatments.
Smart Technologies in the Diabetes Clinic of the Future
The MOU will also utilise smart technologies in a Diabetes Clinic of the Future. Diabetes is a serious healthcare problem, with one in three Singaporeans at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. Beyond the serious health repercussions, diabetes also poses a high economic burden. A study undertaken by researchers in 2015 projected that the total economic cost from diabetes in Singapore, including productivity loss, would more than double from US$787 million in 2010 to US$1.87 billion in 2050. Prevention and management of diabetes is one of the core focus areas in the RIE2020 plan (RIE stands for Research, Innovation and Enterprise).
A*STAR and SingHealth will jointly adopt a Smart Health approach towards diabetes diagnosis, treatment and management, by combining crucial patient data and clinical expertise from SingHealth, and medical technology, electronics and imaging capabilities from A*STAR.
The Diabetes Clinic of the Future will eventually be housed within SingHealth’s existing Diabetes and Metabolism Centre (DMC), located at SGH. This clinic , to better predict, track, and manage diabetes.
This will improve diabetes care for patients, and also provide a sandbox environment for tech developers and other industry partners to trial their innovations, and support Singapore’s war on diabetes.
Immunotherapy and Drug Development
Third, the MOU aims to spur further innovation in immunotherapy and drug development. Immunotherapy is the "treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response".
To facilitate closer collaboration between our research institutes, clinicians, and biotech companies in undertaking drug discovery and development work, national drug development platforms have been established, such as A*STAR’s Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC) for small-molecule drugs, and an upcoming Experimental Biotherapeutics Centre (EBC) for large-molecule drugs. To date, ETC and Duke-NUS Medical School have two publicly-funded cancer drug candidates in clinical trials.
Moving forward, the drug development process will be accelerated, and develop a pipeline of ground-breaking treatments for critical disease areas like cancer and cardiovascular diseases, which have been identified as key therapeutic focus areas under the RIE2020 HBMS (Health & Biomedical Sciences) Strategy.
New national drug development initiatives, such as a joint SingHealth-A*STAR immunotherapy platform, will harness the latest innovations in immunotherapy and work with local immunotherapy biotech companies, further bolstering our local biotech ecosystem.
The Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre (ViReMiCS) at SingHealth Duke-NUS is also being launched today. It is a new academic research facility aimed at accelerating the development of drugs and vaccines for infectious diseases, which will allow more effective response to infectious disease outbreaks. With the launch of ViReMiCS the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre will be able to work more closely with industry partners, including the pharmaceutical and vaccine industries.