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Speech By Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister For Finance, At The National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) Heart To Heart Gala 2018, On 5 Oct 2018 At 8.20 Pm, At The Ritz-Carlton Singapore

05 Oct 2018

Prof Ivy Ng Group Chief Executive Officer, SingHealth
Members from the SingHealth Board

Prof Terrance Chua Medical Director, National Heart Centre Singapore,

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good Evening.

1. Thank you for inviting me to the National Heart Centre Singapore’s (NHCS) ‘Heart To Heart Gala 2018’. I am honoured today to be standing in front of so many dedicated healthcare professionals and generous individuals who have come together to support the National Heart Centre Singapore to improve the lives of heart patients and be a leader in heart care.

20th anniversary of NHCS and its role

2. This year’s ‘Heart To Heart’ Gala is special as we are also celebrating NHCS’s 20th anniversary. This is a significant milestone as the Centre goes from strength to strength to bring about better care for heart patients in Singapore. Congratulations to Professor Chua and your team at NHCS!

3. NHCS has stayed true to its mission to be a people-centred organisation serving patients through passion and innovation in cardiovascular care, research and education.

    a. NHCS has built strong clinical expertise in cardiovascular medicine and surgery, including the capability to treat complex cases.
    b. This is being augmented by its Academic Medicine journey which creates stronger synergies between medical research, education and clinical care.
    c. Together, this would help improve the lives and outcomes of heart patients in Singapore through better care and treatment.

4. NHCS showed its strong institutional commitment to do even more, when it set up the Heart To Heart Fund. This fund will further augment resources for three main functions: provide financial assistance to needy heart patients, support research that will improve patient outcomes and train future generations of healthcare professionals.

5. Tonight’s theme, ‘An odyssey of discovery and hope’ describes the long process of healthcare research which will no doubt be challenging, but also brings with it the promise of a better tomorrow.

Need for cardiovascular research

6. But what is this better tomorrow you may ask? Why is there a need for all of us to reaffirm this long-term commitment to advance cardiovascular research?

7. In Singapore, cardiovascular disease is the largest contributor to the burden of disease and causes one in every four deaths. With an ageing population, there is an even greater need to find better ways to prevent and manage cardiovascular diseases well.

8. We certainly do tap on and benefit from the excellent research in cardiovascular diseases which is carried out around the world. A great deal of this research carried out in Western countries on Caucasian patients. However, the genetic make-up and lifestyles of the Asian population are different and hence the behaviour and response to treatment of such diseases may differ.

9. Therefore, it is important that we invest in sustained rigorous medical research and work to translate key discoveries into innovative healthcare approaches and solutions for the benefit of patients in Singapore and the Asian region.

Research achievements

10. Among their efforts to further medical research and accelerate discoveries, NHCS is building a biobank where volunteers and patients consent to contribute health information and biological samples. These would significantly catalyse and support cross-disciplinary research by providing investigators with biological information of a large group of individuals over an extended period of time for cross-purpose research.

    a. For example, SingHEART, which commenced in late 2015, set out to recruit 10,000 healthy volunteers. Through genetic screening and health profiling over a 10-year period, researchers aim to more deeply understand how cardiovascular disease develops, if they do, in these volunteers.
    b. These insights will then be used to develop a risk assessment tool, which can predict one’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease and offer preventive therapy very early.
    c. Such work helps to address the complex interactions between lifestyles, genetic and other risk factors in relation to cardiovascular health and disease in Asians.

11. There are also other exciting discoveries which the NHCS team of researchers have made in their ongoing work.

    a. One example is the discovery of a critical protein called Interleukin 11 (or IL11), which causes cardiac fibrosis across body organs and can lead to heart, kidney and liver failure.
    i. The intellectual property from this discovery resulted in the formation of Enleofen, a local company backed by a team of local investors, to partner an international pharmaceutical company to develop a new drug to inhibit IL11.
    ii. There is much work to be done ahead, but the goal is for this new drug to address a current treatment gap for patients with heart and kidney failure associated with organ fibrosis.
    iii. I was informed that the progress of the drug development is on track and they are expecting to conduct clinical trials by 2020.

Training of healthcare professionals

12. The key to high quality research and innovative translation into clinical practice is talent. It is imperative that NHCS continues to build a pipeline of outstanding clinician-scientists to break new ground in cardiovascular care. To this end, I am pleased to note that NHCS has groomed six clinician scientists since the setting up of National Heart Research Institute Singapore in 2014, a partnership with Duke-NUS Medical School.

13. Being the national centre for cardiovascular disease, NHCS also takes on the responsibility to train other healthcare professionals to sustain our high standards of medical care in our public healthcare system. I am heartened to note that more than 300 medical students and Advance Practitioner Nurses from local and overseas universities benefit from the rich clinical expertise and experience imparted by the NHCS faculty every year.

Improving lives of patients

14. I would like to commend NHCS on its research achievements and medical excellence in the battle against heart disease in the past two decades. These achievements have been made possible because of the dedication of a wide range of well-trained healthcare professionals who work closely together in teams, to make a difference and improve patients’ lives.

Launch of the Patron’s Council

15. Beyond healthcare professionals, it is heartening to see members in our society stepping forward to contribute to this cause.

    a. I mentioned SingHEART just now. They have recruited volunteers to help advance research into risk factors of heart diseases.
    b. We also have many donors who have contributed generously so that even more can be done in advancing clinical care, research and education in cardiovascular disease.

16. I am therefore pleased to announce that NHCS will launch its Council of Patrons to acknowledge its members who have exemplified the spirit of giving. Their collective donations of over 16 million dollars have led to the establishment of a Professorship and funding of research and education initiatives to advance cardiac health. These five Patrons are:

    a. Mr Goh Cheng Liang from the Goh Foundation;
    b. Dr Lee Seng Tee from the Lee Foundation;
    c. Mr Sukanto Tanoto from the Tanoto Foundation;
    d. Dr Charles Toh from Charles Toh Clinic; and
    e. Mr Steven Yen from New Toyo International Holdings.

17. I hope this Council will inspire our guests and other donors to come forward so that even more can be done in heart research, education and medical care for our patients.

18. Your generous support would certainly make this Odyssey, in partnership with NHCS, a meaningful and fulfilling one, which will also contribute more broadly to advancing health to the benefit of Singaporean society.

19. Thank you, and enjoy the rest of the evening.