New national body established to further research insights, improve patient outcomes and create new economic opportunities for the biomedical technology industry.
Precision medicine is part of Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2025 strategic goal to transform and protect the health of every Singaporean. Identified as a priority by the Ministry of Health, precision medicine aims to understand how genomic, phenotypic, lifestyle and clinical factors contribute to the health of Singaporeans. It also supports the responsible use of health data in clinical applications with the longer-term goal of addressing Singapore’s healthcare challenges in a sustainable and clinically cost-effective manner.
Singapore’s National Precision Medicine (NPM) strategy is a 10-year plan that was launced in 2017 to enhance and accelerate Singapore’s biomedical research, health outcomes and economic growth. NPM is a whole-of-government effort to establish the necessary frameworks and infrastructure to realise precision medicine on a national scale, to ultimately improve public health, enhance disease prevention and to identify the right treatments for the right individuals and groups.
Starting in April 2021, Phase II of Singapore’s NPM strategy aims to further research insights into the Asian phenotype through analysing the genetic makeup of 100,000 healthy Singaporeans and up to 50,000 patients with specific diseases. It also looks to improve patient outcomes by piloting the implementation of precision medicine in clinical practice. Through NPM it also hopes to create new economic opportunities for Singapore’s healthcare and biomedical technology industry by attracting and anchoring overseas companies while yielding new opportunities for home-grown enterprises.
To achieve this, Precision Health Research, Singapore (PRECISE), has been set up, as the central entity to drive NPM.
Precision medicine is a fast-growing medical approach, which considers a patient’s individual variables including genetics, lifestyle as well as other environmental factors. A more comprehensive understanding of disease-causing factors provides earlier, faster and more accurate diagnoses, optimises treatments by prescribing the right drug at the right time, informs the development of new drugs and therapies, and enhances disease prevention. Current precision medicine programmes focus on Caucasian populations and lack genetic diversity. Many conditions, such as cancer and heart disease which can have different presentations among Asians, remain underrepresented.
With its multi-ethnic population which captures 80 per cent of Asia’s genetic diversity, Singapore is well-placed to address knowledge gaps in Asian-specific precision medicine and complement global efforts.
In NPM Phase II, PRECISE will collaborate with research and clinical partners from the Singapore ecosystem, including the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, National Healthcare Group, National University Health System, National University of Singapore, and SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre to study the genetic makeup of 100,000 healthy Singaporeans and up to 50,000 people with specific diseases. The genetic data will be integrated with detailed lifestyle, environmental, and clinical data to yield rich insights into factors that contribute to Asian diseases and conditions.
“While the field of precision medicine has seen considerable progress in recent years, there remains an urgent need for research findings to be translated into standard clinical practice. In NPM Phase II, we will be working with doctors, healthcare institutions and the Ministry of Health to find ways to apply precision medicine to improve the health of Singaporeans in a way that is affordable and maximises the benefit to the patient,” said Professor Tai E Shyong, Chief Medical Officer at PRECISE. He is also a Senior Consultant in the Division of Endocrinology at the National University Hospital and Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and Duke-NUS Medical School.
Making precision medicine a reality in Singapore requires a long-term and concerted commitment from both the Government and the industry. In addition to expanding research efforts and establishing national clinical workflows, NPM Phase II will continue to partner the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), A*STAR, the Economic Development Board, and the Heath Promotion Board to catalyse the next phase of growth for Singapore’s healthcare and biomedical technology industry by attracting and anchoring overseas companies in Singapore and creating new opportunities for home-grown enterprises. [APBN]