OPENING ADDRESS BY MR GAN KIM YONG, MINISTER FOR HEALTH, AT THE NATIONAL MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (NMRC) AWARDS CEREMONY AND RESEARCH SYMPOSIUM 2019
A very good morning. I am delighted to join you at the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) Awards Ceremony and Research Symposium 2019. Let me extend a warm welcome to all our speakers and participants for the symposium.
2. This year’s event also marks the Silver Jubilee of NMRC since the council was formed under the Ministry of Health (MOH) in 1994. This is a remarkable milestone and I would like to congratulate NMRC on this achievement. This would not have been possible without the contributions of past and present staff and leaders of NMRC, including the past Chairmen who are with us today as special guests. Thank you for joining us at this ceremony.
Research in Healthcare
3. NMRC plays an important role in spearheading MOH’s vision for healthcare research, as it oversees the development and advancement of translational, clinical and health services research in Singapore. Scientific discoveries and new research evidence are fundamental in the development of medical innovations that can translate into better clinical practices and policies, leading ultimately to improved patient care and better health for Singaporeans.
Biomedical Science (BMS) Initiatives
4. Recognising the importance of biomedical research, we started the Biomedical Science (BMS) initiative in 2000. BMS Phase I focused on the development of fundamental research capabilities and infrastructure, basic science research talent and industry R&D support. In 2006, BMS Phase II sought to strengthen the basic sciences developed while building up strong translational and clinical research capability to facilitate bench to bedside application of discoveries. In 2011, BMS Phase III was launched to encourage research collaboration, including with partners from industry, to enhance research capabilities and outcomes.
5. In the current phase (Phase IV) of funding, which started in 2016, the BMS initiative was renamed Health and Biomedical Science (HBMS), to reflect the importance of health outcomes of our research. Our vision is for Singapore to be a leading centre that advances human health and wellness, and creates economic value for Singaporeans, through the pursuit of excellence in research and its applications.
6. Since we first embarked on the BMS initiatives, we have supported more than 2,500 research projects and programmes, and awarded over $3 billion of funds to support research, which has already resulted in better diagnosis, better treatment and better disease prevention for Singaporeans.
7. For instance, under the work of the Singapore Integrated Diabetic Retinopathy Programme or SiDRP, a centralised platform that grades Diabetic Retinopathy using imaging technology was developed. This programme started from one polyclinic1, and has now grown to a programme involving 20 polyclinics across Singapore. A costeffectiveness study has shown that this telemedicinebased screening model could potentially save up to about $30 million a year in healthcare cost compared to the traditional way of having family physicians to interpret the images2.
8. Research findings have also been adopted in healthcare policies and programmes. One example would be the National Steps Challenge. The Health Services Research project studied the effects of using different types of incentives to encourage physical activity. The research findings were incorporated into the design of the National Steps Challenge’s reward mechanism. Since its launch in 2015, the Challenge has garnered over a million signups across Seasons 1, 2 and 3. As of December 2018, over 740,000 individuals have signed up for Season 4.
New Open FundLarge Collaborative Grant Awards
9. An important funding vehicle for the HBMS initiative is the Open FundLarge Collaborative Grant (OFLCG), which aims to bring together investigators from across different institutions in Singapore, and researchers from different disciplines, including clinician scientists, basic scientists and other research professionals. The OFLCG supports programmes that aim to make significant contributions to the advancement of the study of disease areas and help establish Singapore as a global leader in biomedical research. This year, I am pleased to announce that four programmes have been awarded a total of $82 million of funding under the OFLCG. This is the highest quantum that has been awarded in a single grant call since the inception of the grant in 2016.
10. The first is The Singapore lYMPHoma translatiONal studY (SYMPHONY), which is led by Professor Lim Soon Thye from the National Cancer Centre. The programme seeks to focus on nextgeneration biomarkers which can be exploited for better diagnosis and prognostication as well as improved clinical response to immunotherapy.
11. The second award recipient is the Singapore Parkinson’s disease Translational Clinical Programme (SPARK) Phase II. With our rapidly ageing population, neurodegenerative diseases involving the brain pose a significant burden on our healthcare system. Professor Tan Eng King from the National Neuroscience Institute will lead the team to identify new drugs to improve health outcomes in Parkinson’s disease. The team will also look at identifying risk and protective factors so as to slow down disease progression.
12. The third project is a continuation of the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium, led by Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan from the National University of Singapore, which aims to reduce the incidence and morbidity of gastric cancer. The Consortium seeks to tackle the key clinical and scientific challenges in gastric cancer, through specific themes in precision prevention, precision therapy and identifying novel targets through innovative technologies, data science and experimental models.
13. The fourth award is on Advancing precision medicine for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in Asian populations. Led by Professor John Chambers from the Nanyang Technological University, the team aims to better understand the factors underlying cardiovascular disease and type2 diabetes, focusing on the multiethnic Asian population of Singapore. The project seeks to translate the insights and discoveries made to clinical benefit, through improved identification and communication of risk, as well as development of evidencebased, scalable and personalised interventions.
14. Please join me in congratulating the awardees and we look forward to hearing their research results.
Talent Development in Biomedical Research
15. The ability for Singapore to continue delivering impactful research depends heavily on having a robust pool of talent with deep skills and expertise. Over the years, we have built up a base of clinician scientists and health professionals to spearhead health and biomedical research. Since the inception of the NMRC Human Capital Programmes3 in Singapore, we have supported a total of 149 Clinician Scientists through these programmes.
16. We will continue to support such talent through various NMRC’s funding programmes and awards, including the fellowship and scholarship programmes, as well as grant funding for research projects.
17. In conjunction with today’s event, 32 individuals will be receiving the NMRC Singapore Translational Research Investigator Award, Clinician Scientist Award and Transition Award. In addition, we will also be giving out 24 NMRC Research Training Fellowships and MOH Healthcare Research Scholarships. Each and every one of them has achieved tangible impact through their research or are engaging in very promising projects.
18. In closing, I would like to congratulate all the recipients for this year’s NMRC awards. We look forward to your continued contributions to research excellence that can bring about better health outcomes and create economic value for Singapore and Singaporeans.
19. On that note, I wish all of you a fruitful symposium. Thank you.
Source: MINISTRY OF HEALTH (MOH)