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

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 Singapores translational and clinical research (TCR) capabilities which is the focus of our Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Initiative Phase 2.

This years 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 Singapores 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:

  • a. An internationally competitive bench-to-bedside Translational and Clinical Research Flagship programme, launched in 2006, to establish Singapore as a leader in five disease-oriented areas (cancer, cardiovascular / metabolic disorders, neuroscience, infectious diseases and eye diseases) where Singapore and the developed world has high incidences of and Singapore is able to carve a niche in. The first TCR Flagship programme was awarded to the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium in July 2007 to study the early detection of gastric cancer by discovering biomarkers, develop molecular classifications that can robustly predict disease behaviour and device better treatment response. A second grant call on eye diseases and neurosciences is now in progress. The third grant call on infectious disease will begin soon.
  • b. Introduction of two talent attraction and development schemes to recruit and develop world-class clinician-scientists. The Singapore Translational Research (STaR) Investigatorship aims to recruit and nurture world-class clinician scientists and clinician investigators to undertake cutting-edge TCR in Singapore while the Clinician Scientist Award (CSA) targets local outstanding clinicians with proven leadership potential towards research.

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 Childrens 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 Singapores 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."


Contact: Janet Low
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

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