Phase 2 of Singapore's Biomedical Sciences Initiative gains momentum for clinical research

October 19, 2007

A new partnership to build an integrated neuroscience research programme that spans basic science all the way to clinical research. Strategic research infrastructure for tertiary hospitals and medical schools, and a national organisation to support and strengthen late phase clinical trials in Singapore. These are some of the new initiatives that were endorsed by the Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council (BMS IAC) at their annual meeting today. These initiatives will boost Singapore's translational and clinical research (TCR) capabilities which is the focus of our Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Initiative Phase 2.

This year's BMS IAC meeting was the 12th since the Council was formed in 2000. It was chaired by Sir Richard Sykes, Rector Imperial College London, and was attended by 9 eminent scientists from the US, UK, Europe, Canada and Australia.

The IAC members commended the progress that has been made over the past one year since the launch of Phase 2 of the BMS initiative by the Biomedical Sciences Executive Committee (BMS EXCO), which is co-chaired by Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and Ms Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Neuroscience Research Partnership forged between A*STAR and Duke- NUS Graduate Medical School

The BMS IAC was supportive of the partnership between A*STAR and the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (GMS) to develop an integrated multidisciplinary neuroscience research programme with a strong focus on translational research. They noted that the Neuroscience Research Partnership will capitalise on the complementary research strengths and resources within the A*STAR research institutes and consortia and the Signature Research Programme on Neurobehavioural Disorders at Duke-NUS GMS.

Neuroscience has been identified as one of five disease areas of research priority to Singapore. The A*STAR - Duke-NUS GMS Neuroscience Research Partnership (NRP) aims to strengthen research capabilities in neuroscience and bridge the gap between basic science and clinical application. The partnership will not only synergise the research efforts of both agencies, it will also facilitate sharing of resources and foster interaction between the researchers on the Biopolis and Outram campuses. Key areas of research include: cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychiatry, neural stem cells, neuro-degenerative diseases, developmental neuroscience and molecular neurobiology.

This NRP will be led by Professor Colin Blakemore, a renowned neuroscientist, former President of the British Neuroscience Association and former Chief Executive of the UK Medical Research Council. Professor Blakemore has been jointly appointed by A*STAR and Duke-NUS GMS as the Chairman of this NRP.

Strategic research infrastructure at Outram and Kent Ridge Campuses

The IAC members endorsed a proposal to develop new research infrastructures at both Kent Ridge Campus comprising the National University Hospital and National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine; and the Outram Campus comprising Singapore General Hospital, the national disease centres and Duke-NUS GMS.

A total of $140m has been committed for this priority, which includes new research buildings for laboratory research, Investigational Medicine Units (IMUs) for early clinical research in man, and additional Animal Research Facilities for preclinical research. The focus of research for these buildings include translational and clinical research and research areas under the BMS Phase 2 initiatives.

The co-location and integration of the research infrastructure with the tertiary hospitals and the medical schools will strengthen the support for clinician scientists and clinician investigators in their translational and clinical research work and establish the two campuses as centres of excellence for bench to bedside research.

A combined grant call will be issued shortly to the two campuses and results are expected to be out by early 2008.

Academic Clinical Research Organization

The IAC also endorsed the proposal to set up a national Academic Clinical Research Organization (ACRO) to provide core services and infrastructure as well as intellectual leadership for later phases of clinical research in Singapore. This includes late Phase 2 - Phase 4 clinical trials and selected epidemiology and outcome research studies.

The ACRO will serve as a one-stop centre offering biostatistical, data and project management expertise as well as medical informatics for research studies in the public hospitals.

One of the roles of the ACRO is to be a single point of contact for the facilitation of multi-centred studies in Singapore. The ACRO will work with industry, out-patient research facilities and clinical research teams in the various public hospitals to coordinate large trials across the multiple sites.

Progress of BMS Initiative Phase 2

The BMS IAC noted the solid foundation that had been laid in Phase 1 of the BMS initiative and commended the good progress in Phase 2. It applauded the integrated efforts and commitment of A*STAR, MOH, EDB, MOE, and the wider clinical community to support this TCR endeavour. The BMS EXCO had holistically reviewed and systematically put in place key initiatives to build up Singapore's Intellectual Capital, Human Capital, and Infrastructure Capital needed to advance translational and clinical research in Singapore.

Key advances in the first year of the BMS Phase 2 initiative include: Four candidates have been shortlisted for consideration under the STaR Award, and the call for the CSA has just recently closed. Announcements for both awards are expected to be made early 2008. (Refer to Annex A for other highlights of the BMS initiative in the past year.)

New Council Members

BMS IAC also welcomed three new members at this 12th meeting. They are Professor William Evans, Director and CEO, St Jude Children's Research Hospital; Dr Anthony Pawson, Director of Research, Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital; and Professor Rolf Zinkernagel, Director, Institute of Experimental Immunology, University of Zurich.


"Phase 2 of Singapore's BMS initiative will see greater integration across public sector agencies and the wider scientific and clinical community to advance healthcare, position Singapore as a medical hub, and grow the biomedical industry," said Mr Lim, co-chair of the BMS EXCO. "We thank Sir Richard Sykes and the IAC members for their invaluable advice and guidance and for journeying with us since 2000. Moving forward, the BMS EXCO will continue to strengthen the basic research capabilities as it strongly supports clinical research and clinical trials with the necessary capabilities, talent and infrastructure. "

Ms Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary (Ministry of Health) and co-chair of the BMS EXCO says: "These latest initiatives are core to our efforts to strengthen and better integrate our research and clinical capabilities at the Outram and Kent Ridge medical campuses which will ultimately benefit our patients. Our scientists and clinicians are excited by the opportunity these initiatives provide them to participate actively in TCR at the national level. Our healthcare leaders found the discussions with the IAC most valuable, as they have used their experience and expertise to guide and challenge our thinking as to the next level of excellence we can attain."

"I have been involved with the Biomedical Sciences efforts in Singapore for the last 7 years. I have to say that what has been achieved during this period is nothing short of spectacular success," commended Sir Richard Sykes who has chaired the BMS IAC since it was set up in 2000. "The success includes the building of Biopolis, the state of the art facilities and equipment, the gathering of some of the finest international and local scientists, and very importantly, the young scientific talents that have been nurtured. What is particularly meaningful for me as Chairman of the IAC, and I believe I also speak for all members of the IAC, is to witness and feel that you are a part of this progress. You see the follow through from the discussion and advice that you offer, year after year. I just want to add that, having spent more than thirty years in the pharmaceutical industry, in order to build a vibrant and sustainable biomedical industry cluster, you need to build a vibrant biomedical research hub. The growth in the output of the Biomedical Sciences Sector in the last 6 years in Singapore speaks for itself. Clearly, the Biomedical Sciences effort in Singapore is headed in the right direction."
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Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council (BMS IAC)

The BMS IAC was established in 2000 to guide the formulation of national strategies and policies for Singapore's Biomedical Sciences industry. The Council comprises eminent scientists and key leaders in the international biomedical community. Its roles are: Biomedical Sciences Executive Committee (BMS EXCO)

Formed in 2000, the multi-agency BMS EXCO was chaired by Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) to drive Singapore's Biomedical Sciences (BMS) initiative. In 2006, as the BMS initiative progressed into Phase 2 with the added focus on translational and clinical research, the BMS EXCO was reconstituted with Chairman A*STAR and the Permanent Secretary of Health as co-Chairpersons.

The BMS EXCO brings together key agencies such as A*STAR, the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Ministry of Trade & Industry and the Ministry of Education to drive Singapore's Biomedical Sciences initiative. The BMS EXCO is supported by three working groups to strengthen Singapore's Intellectual Capital, Human Capital and Infrastructure Capital for translational and clinical research. The implementation of the EXCO's initiatives is overseen and coordinated by A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council and MOH's National Medical Research Council.

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) & Biomedical Research Council (BMRC)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*STAR, is Singapore's lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based Singapore. A*STAR actively nurtures public sector research and development in Biomedical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Engineering, with a particular focus on fields essential to Singapore's manufacturing industry and new growth industries. It oversees 14 research institutes and supports extramural research with the universities, hospital research centres and other local and international partners.

At the heart of this knowledge intensive work is human capital. Top local and international scientific talent drive knowledge creation at A*STAR research institutes. The Agency also sends scholars for undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral training in the best universities, a reflection of the high priority A*STAR places on nurturing the next generation of scientific talent.

The Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) oversees the development of core research capabilities within A*STAR research units specialising in bioprocessing; chemical synthesis; genomics and proteomics; molecular and cell biology; bioengineering and nanotechnology and computational biology. Through competitive grants, the Council also supports research in the wider scientific community such as public universities and hospitals. As part of its efforts to advance human healthcare, BMRC actively promotes translational medicine and cross-disciplinary research. The Council also engages in human capital development in the biomedical sciences and promotes societal awareness of biomedical research through outreach programmes.

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National Medical Research Council

The National Medical Research Council or NMRC oversees the development and advancement of medical research in Singapore. It provides research funds to healthcare institutions, awards competitive research funds for individual projects and is responsible for the development of clinician-scientists through awards and fellowships. The NMRC is appointed by the Minister for Health with a mandate to lead, promote, co-ordinate and fund medical research in Singapore.

NMRC-funded research has led to inter-disciplinary partnerships and international collaborations. It also evaluates the outcomes of the research projects and facilitates the commercialization of research findings. Since its inception in 1994, it has built up the medical research capabilities in Singapore through the funding of more than 1000 individual research projects and 13 national research programmes.

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Highlights from 2007


Attracting International Scientific Talent

A*STAR has continued to attract and involve international scientific luminaries to contribute to Singapore's BMS initiatives. Some senior scientific appointees at BMRC include: To diversify research talent pool, A*STAR launched the Singapore International Graduate Award (SInGA), a 4-year award for international students who wish to do a PhD in Singapore, in partnership with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Nurturing Translational & Clinical Research Talent

To identify and recruit world-class clinician scientists and clinician investigators (similar to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Award), the Singapore Translational Research (STaR) Investigatorship Award was launched by the Biomedical Sciences Executive Committee (BMS EXCO) in 2006. The first and second calls were held in October 2006 and April 2007 respectively.

The Clinician Scientist Award (CSA), an enhancement to the earlier Clinician Scientist Investigator Scheme, was launched in 2007. The new CSA provides full (100%) salary support to the Clinician Scientist (CS) so that he may be relieved of clinical duties and be fully committed to research. The CS may, however, still spend a small portion of his time in clinical service insofar as it is relevant to his research. The award also comes with competitive grant funding and indirect cost recovery for the host institution.

Scholarships & Fellowships

Since 2001, A*STAR has awarded 452 scholarships and fellowships in BMS, including 21 for the MBBS-PhD programme and 11 International Fellowship for medical doctors. To date, there are 40 scholars who have completed their graduate studies and are deployed at the various BMRC Research Institutes. In addition to the training of Singaporean PhDs, A*STAR also forged a partnership with prestigious Cambridge University (UK) to establish the A*STAR-Cambridge Partnership PhD Programme (ACP), bringing the total number of A*STAR's overseas partners for joint PhD training to 6.


A*STAR's scientific leaders and scientists received recognition and accolades at both the national and international level: INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL

Institutes and Initiatives: Updates from 2007

The Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC) has expanded its industrial and academic partnerships to include Nikon, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Siemens. The SBIC-Nikon Imaging Centre, which aims to promote innovation in biological research by providing access to advanced microscopy and imaging equipment, and collecting feedback to develop new microscope setups and imaging techniques, was opened in August. The establishment of the NUS-A*STAR joint venture and its industry partnership with Siemens for the Clinical Imaging Research Centre (CIRC), was also announced in August.

The Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) was officially opened in April 2007 at the new Brenner Centre for Molecular Medicine located at the NUS Kent Ridge Campus. SICS will have research programmes in Genetic Medicine, Hepatic Diseases and Metabolic Diseases, and currently has four Principal Investigators.

The Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC) was established to develop therapeutics and diagnostics discovery and developmental expertise to facilitate bench-to-industry research by translating discoveries from A*STAR laboratories into proof-of-concept projects that would be more attractive for out-licensing to industry or for spinning off new companies. ETC has partnered IMCB, Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and 8 other local institutions to form the Singapore Dengue Consortium, which signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in June 2007 to share dengue information and findings in an effort to better understand the dengue virus and facilitate the development of prevention, treatment and eradication strategies.

The Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) has 6 laboratories focusing on the study of human immunology. In the first collaborative grant call in 2006, 6 grants were awarded to support collaborative research between scientists in Biopolis, universities, hospitals and disease centres, while the second grant call is currently ongoing. SIgN recently appointed a new Scientific Director, Dr Paola Castagnoli, formerly Professor of Immunology and Head of the Molecular and Cellular Immunology Programme at the University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy.

The TCR Flagship Programme was launched as an "all-the-way" flagship research programme to support the development of strong investigational medicine capabilities in strategic research areas, namely cancer, neurosciences, eye diseases, infectious diseases and cardiovascular / metabolic diseases. The inaugural grant was awarded in July 2007 to the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium, comprising the National University of Singapore (NUS), National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and National University Hospital (NUH). The second TCR Flagship grant call for neurosciences and eye diseases proposals was closed in July 2007, and is currently in the selection process.

A*STAR's Biomedical Research Highlights from 2007

Some biomedical research highlights from A*STAR in 2007 include:

Singapore to conduct Phase 2 Clinical Trial of Abbott's Drug Candidate following successful "First-in-human" Phase 1 Study

With the support of A*STAR's Singapore Cancer Syndicate and the National University Hospital's strong track record in clinical studies of novel anti-cancer compounds, Dr Goh Boon Cher led a multi-disciplinary team from several institutions to conduct the Phase 1 trial of a "small molecule" drug, developed by Abbott, for treating advanced stages of lung cancer and other forms of cancer. The results show very promising anti-cancer activity as a single drug in patients whose cancer has progressed while on other therapies. With the success of Phase 1, Abbott has selected Singapore as one of the locations for the Phase 2 clinical trials of the same drug candidate, and these will commence in Singapore by the end of the year.

Lab-on-a-chip device to transform field testing for avian flu virus

A team of scientists from IBN, GIS and IMCB, led by Dr Juergen Pipper from IBN, have jointly developed a lab-on-chip device that can be used to test for the presence of the avian flu H5N1 virus within 30 minutes directly from throat swab samples. These findings were published in Nature Medicine in September 2007.

IMCB secures NIH funding for elephant shark genome project

IMCB researchers, led by Dr Byrappa Venkatesh, have been awarded a US$5 million grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to sequence the whole genome of the elephant shark. The project will be undertaken in collaboration with a major genome centre in the US.

GIS secures 2 NIH grants amounting to funding of about US$2 million

GIS has clinched two grants, each worth approximately US$1 million, from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grants were awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). These follow an earlier grant to GIS from NHGRI in 2004 of comparable amount.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded a grant to Professor Edison Liu, Executive Director of the GIS, for the project entitled "Pair-end-ditag technologies for the complete annotation of fusion genes". Worth over US$1 million, the three-year project will continue research on a new technology developed by GIS known as the Gene Identification Signature Pair-end-diTag (GIS-PET). The GIS-PET technology is used to identify fused genes that function as oncogenes or cancer-causing genes. The second grant was awarded to Dr. Ruan Yijun and his GIS team by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which was part of US$80 million that NHGRI is giving out over the next four years as it moves on to the next stage of the ENCyclopedia Of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project, following the success of it's pilot phase.


In year 2006, the BMS industry's manufacturing output reached S$23 billion with a value added of $13.6 billion. The figures represent 10.2% and 23.4% of Singapore's total manufacturing output and value-added respectively. The industry employed 10,500 workers and contributed 6.5% to Singapore's GDP.

Drug discovery and development in the private sector

In drug discovery and development, clinical trials on S*BIO's SB939, Singapore's first home-grown novel clinical candidate for targeted cancer therapy, commenced in mid-2007. In 2007, MerLion Pharmaceuticals initiated Phase 1 clinical studies for 2 drug candidates, namely a novel lipopeptide antibiotic, friulimicin B (friulimicin), and novel antibiotic, finafloxacin. MerLion Pharmaceuticals Pte Ltd was formed in 2002 through the privatization of the former Centre for Natural Product Research (CNPR), a unit of IMCB.

Building a critical mass for biologics manufacturing

Singapore is actively pursuing investments in biologics, an area that will drive growth in the drug industry. We are quickly building critical mass for biologics manufacturing and expect to maintain this momentum. In less than two years, Singapore has attracted four major biologics investments totalling close to US$1 billion in fixed assets. These facilities will be manufacturing biologics for the global market. Growth in the Medical Technology sector In the fast growing Medical Technology sector, Singapore saw investments in new high value added manufacturing activities such as implantable devices and sophisticated instrumentation systems, which leverages on our capabilities in complex manufacturing and precision engineering. Edwards Lifesciences is building a tissue heart-valves manufacturing plant while MDS Sciex opened its first facility in Asia Pacific to manufacture CellKey, its new cellular analysis system.

World-class research infrastructure Singapore will invest in strategic research infrastructure to support the anticipated growth in translational and clinical research at the Kent Ridge and Outram campuses , viz. one new research building, investigational medicine unit and animal research facility at a total co-funding support of S$70M per campus. This infrastructure initiative has been recently approved, and a grant call will be launched with proposals subject to independent review.

Biopolis Phase II (Neuros-Immunos) was completed in October 2006 and comprises 400,000 square feet of laboratory space. Due to take-up rates for Phase II exceeding expectations (with 95% of space already committed), work has begun on Biopolis Phase III.

Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

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