Translational medicine is central to the goal of converting basic discoveries to diagnostic and therapeutic tools that can be harnessed to treat disease and improve human health. As such, the field of translational medicine is multidisciplinary, encompassing molecular medicine, intellectual property, financing, regulation, pre-clinical and clinical trial studies, among others.
Given the increasing importance of translational medicine in the biomedical field, in our first event of a series on translational medicine in collaboration with Eureka Institute of Translational Medicine, Biotech Connection Singapore invited Dr. Salvatore Albani (Director of the Translational Immunology Institute and President of the Eureka Institute for Translational Medicine), Mr. Xiangliang Lin (President of Esco Healthcare) and Prof. Stuart Cook (Professor, at Imperial College London and Duke-NUS, Director and Co-Founder of Enleofen) to share their insights into translational medicine on 10 May 2018.
The event started with Salvatore giving an introduction to translational medicine. Translational medicine is inspired by medical needs. It is the bridge between patients and technology, with patients at the heart of medicine and technology as a tool to address patient needs. As translational medicine is a very diverse field, Salvatore stressed that it is important to be aware of the gaps in knowledge so as to bring together individuals with the relevant expertise. Hence, team effort is vital for success in translational medicine.
However, Salvatore highlighted that there are also several challenges which lie in the path of achieving success in translational medicine. Firstly, technology changes rapidly. These new developments are often not part of the medical training of physicians. Translational medicine is also a risky venture in that there is a large investment of time, money and effort but success is not guaranteed. Much of published academic research is also not reproducible, creating an obstacle in the road towards commercialization. To maximise success, academics need to work with the pharmaceutical industry and understand their aims.
Before venturing into translational medicine, there are several considerations to take note of. As most of the research is conducted in universities, those interested in commercializing ideas in translational medicine should collaborate with these institutions. In addition to evaluating if a technology is “druggable” i.e. whether it can be translated into a drug or device, they should also analyse the market to identify needs as well as competitors to come up with a roadmap of how to achieve their aims. As getting involved in translational medicine is a large investment of resources, those who are interested should be aware of the various risks and trade-offs. To reduce risks for investors, it is vital to work as a team to address issues. As such, a clear recognition of the efforts of other team members in the project is also important. Most importantly, as patients are often involved in the experimental testing, it is imperative to work closely with regulatory agencies to reduce the risk for them.
During the panel discussion, the audience took the opportunity to ask the panellists about the translational medicine scene in Singapore such as the differences between the translational medicine ecosystem between Singapore and elsewhere, the opportunities for local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to get into the translational medicine field as well as the future of translational medicine in Singapore. According to Xiangliang, one key difference between Singapore and China is that the market in China is much larger. Consequently, many venture capitalists are attracted by the large capital available in China and invest in start-ups there. Salvatore added that although there are fewer regulatory roadblocks in China, the stricter regulations in Singapore also mean that newly developed drugs and devices are more easily approved. Regardless, concerted efforts are in place to attract more venture capitalists to invest in start-ups in Singapore.
Xiangliang mentioned that there are huge unmet needs in the areas of new devices and manufacturing tools. There are also unmet needs in software development and import opportunities. These are the potential areas that local SMEs can be part of the translational medicine landscape in Singapore. In addition to venture capitalists, big pharma companies also provide funds and incubate ideas e.g. Johnson and Johnson labs. Stuart cautioned that start-ups and SMEs have to be wary about exchanging equity for funding from venture capitalists. It is a balance between making profits, value creation and retaining control. As emphasized by Salvatore and Stuart, it is important to create value beyond a patent. In fact, the value of technology increases exponentially when it is translated to applications which are relevant to humans!
The evening ended with Salvatore concluding that there is a very strong concerted effort in Singapore to translate scientific potential into tangible aspects which are beneficial for society. The future of translational medicine is indeed bright!
6:30-6:40pm Welcome address by Eureka Institute and BCS
6:40-7:00pm Lecture by Prof Salvatore Albani: “Principles of translational medicine and is your technology marketable”
7:00-7:30pm Panel discussion and Q&A
7:30-8:00pm Refreshments and networking
Salvatore Albani, MD, PhD
Director, Translational Immunology Institute
President, Eureka Institute for Translational Medicine
Professor Albani is an internationally renowned rheumatologist and immunologist. His fundamental research interest is in understanding human immunity and contributing the knowledge to therapeutic and diagnostic advancements. He developed several innovative approaches in the area of induction and maintenance of immune tolerance in humans, being responsible for the whole translational process from idea to conclusion of Phase II clinical trial in autoimmune inflammatory diseases, which have a large impact on society and individuals. This translational research itinerary has been the original backbone of his career, as witnessed by a rich publication trail (among others Nature Medicine, Lancet, JCI, PNAS, Nature Rheumatology, A&R, ARD, etc) and by approximately 100 patents, disclosures and applications.
Mr. Xiangliang Lin
President, Esco Healthcare
Xiangliang (XL) Lin is the Founder & President of Esco Healthcare, a division of Esco Group of Companies. Esco boasts its strength of multiple manufacturing sites across the globe. XL also designed and oversaw the engineering, manufacturing and validation of the company’s first cGMP-compliant isolators, downflow booths, bioreactors, and clean air & containment technology.
Esco transitioned from tools provider to on-site process development and with its developed technologies, Esco Aster was formed in 2018. Today, Esco Aster is the leading independent Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO).
XL Lin graduated with a degree in Bachelor of Sciences from University of Sydney and has plans to further his studies.
Stuart Cook, MBBS, MRCP, PhD
Professor, Imperial College London
Director and Co-Founder, Enleofen
Dr. Stuart Cook grew up in Kenya, went to high school at St Edward’s, Oxford and studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Medical School, London. He did a PhD at the National Heart and Lung Institute, UK and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard. He trained in cardiology and sub-specialized in cardiac MRI. He is Professor at Imperial College, London and Duke-National University of Singapore (Duke-NUS). He is a cardiologist at the National Heart Centre Singapore where he oversees the clinical MRI service. He is the Director of the National Heart Research Institute Singapore and Program Director of the CVMD program at Duke-NUS. He is co-founder of Enleofen, a biotechnology company developing therapies for the treatment of fibrotic diseases.
The EUREKA Institute for Translational Medicine was established in 2008 by leaders in the field and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. The birth of Eureka arises from the realization that the itinerary from molecular to clinical medicine requires a seamless trajectory to insure that talent, ideas, and potential cures are captured. Eureka Singapore aims to develop a community of Translational Medicine professionals, in Asia-Pacific, to advance the application of biomedical innovation for the tangible benefit of patients and society as a whole.