Bayer Innovation Center Singapore
Alliances Against Diseases Prevalent in Asia
Innovation Center Singapore is one of six science and innovation hubs around the world in the Pharmaceuticals Division of Bayer.
The Center collaborates with researchers in the region, specifically in the oncology and cardiovascular fields.
The partners pave the way for translating the latest science into targeted medicines for patients in Asia.
“Majulah Singapura: Onward Singapore”: the main line from Singapore’s national anthem sums up how many of its 5.5 million inhabitants feel, and it also applies to the country’s thriving R&D community. The government supports research. Labs and hospitals are well equipped, and the dynamic local R&D landscape attracts renowned medical researchers from around the world. Singapore’s diverse population allows scientists to study diseases across ethnicities, including Chinese, Indian, and Malays, which cover a large part of the population within Asia.
These favorable conditions lead to a strong drive in medical innovation. They make Bayer’s Singapore Innovation Center a strategic node in the company’s global network of pharmaceutical science and innovation hubs. The center steers all of Bayer’s regional activities, from managing existing collaborations to paving the way for new collaborations from Singapore and South Korea to Australia and Taiwan. Its focus is on translational and clinical research on diseases prevalent in Asia.
Bayer connects with science communities around the world through its Pharmaceutical division’s Science and Innovation Hubs, fostering collaboration and participating in the scientific discourse with universities and research institutes, startup communities, and other companies.
Meet the collaboration partners and get a glimpse of the Bayer scientists’ work at the Innovation Center Singapore.
Planning collaborations in every precious minute
Every minute counts in the busy schedule of Hwee Ching Ang (left), Head of Innovation Center Singapore. During a taxi ride through the city, she and Regional Alliance Manager Eun Ju Lee review a list of existing collaborations as well as projects the Innovation Center may initiate in future. “We look for collaborations which help Bayer innovate, and we design these collaborations so they bring value to both sides,” explains Ang. Ang and Lee are both based in Singapore, but their work spans across the Asia Pacific region. While Lee needs to catch a flight to Australia where she has meetings scheduled ...
At Singapore’s National Cancer Center
… Hwee Ching Ang visits the National Cancer Center in Singapore, a close partner for Bayer, to discuss how the results of a current joint project could apply to an ongoing oncology trial. Professor Hung Huynh (right), Principal Investigator of the Center’s Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology, studies tissue samples obtained from human tumors. These so-called Patient-Derived Xenograft tumor models offer insights close to what could be found in tests with actual patients.
I hope that the collaborations we initiate at the Innovation Center Singapore will help to improve treatments for patients in Asia.
Always on duty for the best data
Prof. Huynh’s tumor library comprises about 280 models, including gastric, liver and ovarian cancer tumor types. The scientist has no time for long breaks: the tumor models need to be monitored every 12 hours. “If you miss the correct timing, all the data produced will be wrong,” he says. This is something he cannot afford: his partners in the pharmaceutical industry rely on the information he delivers. The scientist loves his busy work. “I come here at 4 in the morning almost every day, 7 days a week – it doesn’t bother me at all,” he says.
Bayer Singapore Oncology Forum – meeting the scientists
In addition to overseeing about 20 collaborations and projects with hospitals, research institutions and universities in the region, the team at the Innovation Center Singapore brings together scientists and clinicians from different specialties. Bayer fosters scientific exchange by organizing conferences, face-to-face meetings and group discussions as well as masterclasses and workshops. One example is the Bayer Singapore Oncology Forum in March, 2016 which was attended by over 180 medical and scientific researchers as well as many Bayer scientists.
Making the most of the meeting: networking between sessions
Between sessions the scientists use the opportunity for networking and exchange. Adjunct Professor Boon Cher Goh (left), Head and Senior Consultant for Hematology and Oncology at the National University Cancer Institute of Singapore and one of Bayer’s close partners, shares the challenges in managing cancer in local patients with Prof. Huynh and Jane Lim, Senior Medical Science Liaison for Oncology at Bayer. Such collaborations give Bayer first-hand insights into diseases prevalent in Singapore and Asia and a real-life perspective into how they are managed in clinical practice.
Bayer’s researchers have new ideas for developing active medications and clinician researchers like us can screen and select patients based on these ideas who may benefit. It is always a scientific challenge to help patients with tumor diseases that have not responded to the existing standard treatments. That spurs us on to think of better ways to treat cancer.
At the National University of Singapore’s Cancer Science Institute
A few days later, Hwee Ching Ang visits Associate Professor Richie Soong at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore, National University of Singapore, where he is Senior Principal Investigator. The collaboration between the institute and Bayer is a win-win: Bayer gets access to extensive clinical collections, genomics and histopathology technology, high-throughput sample preparation and advanced bioinformatics, while the scientist benefits from testing novel compounds in his laboratory.
Immuno-Oncology at work: fighting cancer with immune cells
Here, Dr. Bernadette Reyna Asuncion (left) from Prof. Soong’s lab uses digital pathology to count lymphocytes in human lung cancer tissue to correlate the immune response with the patient’s prognosis. The data help scientists evaluate the effects of immunotherapy. But will the sample-based data translate into patient outcomes? Initial studies showed promising results: patients whose immune system was activated against the tumor cells had an increased life expectancy. Immuno-Oncology is a focus topic for Bayer, and both partners are evaluating potential collaboration opportunities in this field.
Going digital: new software to manage and analyze R&D data
New technologies are another field of collaboration for the Innovation Center Singapore and its partners. With Dr. Wing-Cheong Wong (photo) from the A*STAR Bioinformatics Institute, the center is developing an integrated database and platform to manage the mass of oncology data, including DNA sequences, genotype expression, protein biochemistry and biomarkers, and others. The ‘Translational Informatics Management System’ will help scientists and clinicians to archive and share information as well as to cross-examine datasets.
ASIAN-HF study: Researching heart failure in Asia
Cardiovascular disease is on the increase in Asia: In 2015, cardiovascular disease claimed 8.2 million lives in the region. Singapore’s National University Health System and the National Heart Centre Singapore initiated a joint observational study (ASIAN-HF) on heart failure in Asia. These regional data can provide the basis for further research. Cardiovascular disease, and specifically heart failure, is a strategic therapeutic field for Bayer and its Innovation Center Singapore.
Translating data into targeted medicines for Asian people
The ASIAN-HF study monitors 8,000 heart failure patients in 11 Asian countries. It is the first of its kind in the region. The data could support the stratification of Asian patients and help to identify new targets for R&D in new medications. “It’s an exciting step towards developing novel treatments that Asian patients may better respond to,” says Associate Professor Carolyn Lam, National Heart Centre Singapore.
By working together with industry partners like Bayer, we hope to accelerate the translation of the findings from our study into new treatment for patients.
The journey continues …
On the Metropolitan train in downtown Singapore, Hwee Ching Ang checks her messages on her way home after a long day. When asked about the future, she says: “I hope that the collaborations we initiate at the Innovation Center Singapore will help to improve treatments for patients in Asia. My hope is that progress will continue, so we can, for example, treat most cancers and chronic diseases in future. To make this happen, it is crucial that we join forces and continue to collaborate closely within our strong network of partners.”
(All photos courtesy of © Armin Stelljes Ltd. / All rights reserved.)