In Singapore, there are over 400,000 people living with diabetes. Patients can develop complications, including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, eye problems and foot ulcers. Diabetes cost Singapore more than S$1 billion in 2010 and is expected to soar to more than S$2.5 billion by 2050. Translational medicine is central to the goal of converting basic discoveries to diagnostic and therapeutic tools that can be harnessed to treat diseases and improve human health. In this panel discussion organized with the Eureka Institute of Translational Medicine on 7 August 2018, we focused on translational opportunities in the management of diabetes. The panelists were Dr. Bee Yong Mong (Senior Consultant of Department of Endocrinology, Singapore General Hospital; Head of SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes Centre), Dr. Bernd Willems (Scientist and Business Development Manager, AYOXXA); Dr Yau Teng Yan (Chief Medical Officer, Holmusk) and Professor Salvatore Albani (Director of Translational Immunology Institute and President of Eureka Institute for Translational Medicine).
Dr. Bee Yong Mong kicked off the event with a talk on translational diabetes. According to Dr. Bee, translational medicine is more than a “bench to bedside” journey from basic science to clinical research. It also encompasses the journey from clinical research to clinical medicine applications in the community. This process can be shortened by adopting best practices in clinics to enable the community to benefit from the applications of clinical medicine. The knowledge from implementing these applications in the community can be used as feedback to ignite hypotheses in the pre-clinical space. Dr. Bee emphasized that it is an exciting time for translational medicine as more precise diagnoses, prognoses and therapeutic decisions are developed.
Dr. Bee also highlighted that the prevalence of diabetes is increasing every year in all age groups, resulting in an increasing economic burden, especially in Singapore and other countries in Asia. “The fight against diabetes is a multi-billion-dollar industry”, Dr. Bee concluded. He had the following advice to address the current situation. Firstly, multi-institutional collaboration is necessary to break the silence (from bench to bedside). There is a need for multiple groups to work together to facilitate more discoveries be translated into clinical applications. Next, more effort is required to overcome the challenges associated with the implementation of bedside technologies to the community. Innovations in data science, wearables, electronic health records as well as artificial intelligence may help to cross the barrier. Lastly, industry partnership is important to enable clinicians to provide better treatments for diabetic patients.
During the panel discussion, the audience asked many pertinent questions, especially in the areas of digital technology and regulations. Digital platforms which engage patients can be used as part of diabetes care and management. However, Dr. Bee mentioned that the biggest challenge he experienced was for patients to use these platforms consistently such that it can be translated into longer term clinical improvement. Companies also face this challenge when convincing more patients to adopt their platforms. Speaking from the perspective of a company which develops digital platforms for clinical care, Dr. Yau added that such platforms have a huge potential in helping patients manage their condition by capturing useful lifestyle data that can be used to personalize care when coupled with clinical data. He pointed out that these platforms should consider developing online social communities to enable connections and sharing among patients, thus functioning as a form of social support for them.
The government plays an important role in drawing up policies that influence the translational medicine process. Faced with the exponential growth of technology, what is the role of policy makers in ensuring that these technologies benefit the society? Regarding this, Dr. Bee mentioned that the Ministry of Health should focus more on the clinical evidence and cost-effectiveness of such technologies to expedite clinical improvement. From an industry viewpoint, Dr. Yau acknowledged that digital technology can speed up the launch-test-feedback cycle, as compared to conventional methodology. Speaking from the perspective of a young biotech spin-off company from NUS, Dr. Willems highlighted the positive funding landscapes in Singapore and the nurturing roles that government entities play. The panelists concluded that with the constantly changing landscape in technology, industry players, the government and caregivers need to work closely to address the gap of unmet clinical needs in the management of diabetes.
The panel discussion was followed by a networking session for professionals in various sectors. We hope that the insightful talk and discussion will inspire more advancements in the field of translational diabetes!
6:30-6:40pm Welcome addresses by Prof. Salvatore Albani and Dr. Sau Yau Chin
6:40-7:00pm Talk on Translational Diabetes by Dr. Bee Yong Mong
7:00-7:30pm Panel discussion and Q&A
7:30pm 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.
Bee Yong Mong, MBBS, MRCP(UK), FRCP Edin
Head of SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes Centre;
Senior Consultant of Department of Endocrinology, SGH
Dr. Bee Yong Mong studied medicine at the National University of Singapore. He trained in endocrinology at the Singapore General Hospital and specialised in diabetes. He did a Fellowship on islets biology at Joslin Diabetes Centre in Boston. He is currently a Senior Consultant in the Department of Endocrinology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School. He is also the Head of SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes Centre, and oversees the transformation and integration of diabetes care, education and research within SingHealth institutions.
Bernd Willems, PhD
Scientist and Business Development Manager, AYOXXA
Dr. Bernd Willems works with AYOXXA as Scientist and Business Development Manager. The NUS spin-off has developed a novel platform technology for multiplexed protein quantification from minute sample volumes. Its products are supporting researchers to gain new insights in translational research fields like Ophthalmology, Immuno-Oncology and various others. Bernd got his PhD from the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore . He then returned to Germany and started his corporate career with a large hospital consortium where he coordinated the Clinical Research arm. Subsequently, he spent three years with QIAGEN as Global Product Manager. In 2017, he joined AYOXXA to represent the company in Singapore.
Yau Teng Yan, MBBS, M.Med, FRCR
Chief Medical Officer, Holmusk
Dr Yau Teng Yan is Chief Medical Officer at Holmusk, a healthcare company that leverages technology and data science to deliver effective, engaging and scalable digital programmes for people living with chronic diseases like diabetes. His current work also includes a grant from the Ministry of Health on a technology-driven intervention programme for dementia prevention, and with the Health Promotion Board on a digital health coaching intervention for overweight & obese children. Prior to Holmusk, Teng Yan was a practicing doctor for 7 years in several public hospitals in Singapore including Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital. He trained in diagnostic radiology and is a fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists (London). He has also worked at the Military Medicine Institute where he was involved in health policy decisions and health screening initiatives in the Singapore Armed Forces. He is a big believer that technology and artificial intelligence will transform the delivery of healthcare, to achieve better outcomes, reduced costs and improved patient experience..
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.