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Speech by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance and Deputy Chairman of the National Research Foundation, at the Opening of the Clinical Imaging Research Centre

11 Nov 2015

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, NUS President

Professor Raj Thampuran, A*STAR Managing Director

Sir George Radda, Chairman of A*STAR BMRC

Professor John Wong, NUS Senior Vice President (Health Affairs)

Professor David Townsend, Director of CIRC

Distinguished guests

Ladies and gentlemen

1. I am happy to join you for the official opening of the Clinical Imaging Research Centre (CIRC) – a Joint Venture between A*STAR and NUS.

2. CIRC is dedicated to top-tier research using state of the art imaging tools and technologies.

  • It provides an important and valuable shared national resource for research imaging right across Singapore.
  • It is a focal point for the development, testing and validation of new imaging methodologies, biomarkers and imaging agents for human clinical studies.

Seeing like never before through the eyes of technology

3. The CIRC is one of the few clinical research sites in the world, and the only one in South East Asia, to use the PET-MR Scanner, a revolutionary diagnostic imaging system from Siemens, that combines two cutting-edge imaging techniques[1] to provide both morphological and functional information; as well as molecular information of physiological processes in a single scan. This allows clinical researchers to identify conditions of the disease accurately while isolating its underlying molecular causes – in the process help in the development of new drugs and therapies.

Value Creation in HBMS – 3 pillars

4. In recent years, we have invested significantly in research in the health and biomedical sciences (HBMS) area. We hope to make an impact, in healthcare outcomes for people in Singapore and around the world. We hope to make an impact in developing a vibrant healthcare-related industry in Singapore, which will allow us to generate resources to continue funding research in this important area.

5. The impact comes from value creation. This is a complex process, but fundamentally, it involves the creation of new products, services or processes. In the healthcare context, there are at least three pillars:

A. First, a deep knowledge base of basic sciences and the needs of patients.

B. Second, a process to translate knowledge to better drugs or devices or clinical practices.

C. Third, doing all these in effective, efficient ways so that the value that is created exceeds the costs of the resources invested. This means, in many cases, strong collaboration.

6. We have made good progress in the first pillar, in building up our knowledge base. While globally, the knowledge base in basic sciences relating to health and biomedical sciences is advancing rapidly, Singapore has also made significant advances in recent years. But we are cognisant that the output of any one country will be a fraction of the global total. To make an impact, we have to differentiate our efforts, to focus on areas that Singapore can make a special contribution, or that has special relevance to our healthcare needs.

7. In this regard, I am glad to learn that the more than 50 active clinical projects underway in CIRC, cover areas of special relevance to the health of Singaporeans – such as cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, metabolic disorders and infectious diseases; and many studies focus on areas particularly important to us, such as dengue, multidrug resistant tuberculosis, liver cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart failure and diabetes.

8. For diseases that manifest themselves differently in Asians compared to Caucasians, or are more prevalent in Singapore, for example diabetes and gastric cancer, it is important for Singapore to do our own research. With an ageing population, we must find better ways of helping patients and their families cope with these diseases and live well.

9. In the second pillar, we are also making good progress in translational research, to harness knowledge to develop better drugs, devices or clinical practices. We are seeing closer collaboration between our hospitals and researchers. But we must continue to deepen this nexus.

10. The setting up of CIRC between A*STAR and NUS marks an important step in strengthening the translational efforts between ‘bench and bedside’. As a national research infrastructure, it brings together scientists and clinicians to study the impact of new therapies and innovative devices in human subjects, using novel imaging methods, clinical trials, and validation work. It works closely with multiple partners, including the industry.

11. The third pillar of this value creation relates to how we organise our efforts. This is a subject that is gaining more and more attention globally across industries, but especially so in the HBMS area. The costs of developing new drugs, new devices and new therapies have risen significantly. The knowledge base needed to make new breakthroughs is expanding rapidly. Institutions and companies all over the world are looking at how they can maximise the chances of a breakthrough, in cost-effective ways.

12. More and more institutions and companies are seeking to collaborate. They recognise that innovation often happen at the intersections of disciplines. Moreover, by collaborating and sharing resources, each party can also reduce its cost of investment.

13. In this regard, the way CIRC is organised will enhance our chances of value creation in cost effective ways. As a shared research infrastructure, it certainly reduces cost. Moreover, CIRC, as a national and international centre for imaging research, has been fostering closer collaboration across researchers – in our universities, our hospitals and research institutes, and with global institutions and the private sector. CIRC’s local and international partnerships include:

  • Joint studies on obsessive-compulsive disorder, 4D lung imaging, peripheral and hepatic insulin sensitivity, dyslexia in children, bone health in Singaporean Chinese women, and liver and prostate cancers.
  • Partnerships with pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly, TauRx and Bayer, and consumer products companies such as Kao Corporation from Japan.
  • Ongoing discussions with Merck, Clarity Pharmaceuticals and Cellectar Biosciences on future joint projects.
  • And studies with Siemens[2] on improvements in imaging technology.

14. Companies have a key role to play in bringing technologies to market, and to benefit more people. When our researchers collaborate with companies to develop solutions together, we strengthen the capabilities of both research outfits and companies in creating value. Such partnership is important in creating value in our future economy.

Concluding remarks

15. As I said recently, in the next phase of our development, it will not be enough for us to just add value – we must create value.

16. Our future economy must be one where innovation is pervasive. We can do so through technology, and through R&D that advances the use of technology for the progress of our society and economy.

17. The introduction of powerful clinical imaging research capabilities in Singapore is a major boost to advancing clinical and translational research, and will strengthen the connection between ‘bench and bedside’ – the connection between technology and progress.

18. Research capabilities and infrastructure at CIRC will not only accelerate the advancement of science, but also improve patient care and treatment, and create new opportunities for the industry to collaborate with the public sector and tertiary institutions.

19. I would like to thank the teams involved, and look forward to the Centre’s success in contributing to health and biomedical sciences in Singapore and around the world. It gives me great pleasure to declare the Clinical Imaging Research Centre officially open.



[1] 3-Tesla Magnetic Resonance Imaging (3T MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET).

[2] imaging for lung screening and prostate cancer, and PET imaging of radio-labeled antibodies.