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A*STAR and SingHealth to collaborate on big data for precision medicine and smart technologies for tackling diabetes

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. 

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