Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the PRECISE-Illumina Partnership Signing Ceremony on 26 May 2022.
Mr Jonathan Kaplan,
Mr Peter Ho,
Professor Tan Chorh Chuan,
Chief Health Scientist,
Ms Susan Tousi,
Chief Commercial Officer,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to be here to witness the partnership ceremony between the Precision Health Research Singapore, or PRECISE, and Illumina Inc.
This partnership is an ambitious undertaking as we seek to undertake the whole-genome sequencing of 100,000 Singaporeans as part of Singapore’s National Precision Medicine programme.
Humanity has known about DNA for more than 150 years. The DNA gained prominence when Watson and Crick discovered its double-helix structure in 1953.
But it was only 20 plus years ago that technological advancements enabled the first human genome to be mapped as part of the Human Genome Project.
Through the comprehensive exploration of the human genome, researchers have been able to understand the effects of genetics on health, disease, and drug responses.
As the cost of DNA sequencing becomes more affordable, we are able to study ever larger sample sets and unlock new insights with AI and machine learning. These insights have paved the way for a new model of care – precision medicine.
Instead of a “one size fits all” approach, precision medicine takes a customised approach to healthcare – with targeted strategies for preventive care and disease treatment.
Linkages between genomic, lifestyle and clinical data can help identify those who are at higher risk of disease and allow for early intervention.
The understanding of genomic-clinical data linkages allows the targeting of therapies to patients who are most likely to respond, avoid severe drug reactions, and maximise drug efficacy by prescribing the optimal dose.
This new model of care has the potential to improve health outcomes, care delivery, and cost effectiveness.
Precision medicine is therefore an important part of our research on human healthand potential under the Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2025 plans. Precision medicine supports our goals for Healthier SG, a major healthcare initiative focused on preventive care.
To enable precision medicine in Singapore, we need a sufficiently large and representative database of our population, comprising not just genomic data but also health and lifestyle information. With this in mind, A*STAR, our healthcare clusters and research institutions embarked on SG100K.
SG100K is a multi-ethnic, longitudinal cohort study of 100,000 Singaporeans. We have already enrolled 70,000 participants from existing cohort studies, and are working towards recruiting the remaining 30,000 participants at a rate of 300 participants per week. We also have in place robust safeguards to protect the privacy and security of the data collected.
Reflecting Singapore’s unique multi-ethnic composition, the SG100K will be the region’s most comprehensive longitudinal population cohort. Analysis of this rich database will provide unprecedented insights into the Asian genome and pathways driving Asian-specific diseases.
Recruiting a pool of 100,000 participants is an important first step for SG100K. Equally important, we will need to generate the whole genome data for each participant. Individually, this is not an inordinately complex task. But to deliver so many full genomes within three-years and analysing the big data generated are not easy.
Illumina is a pioneer and global leader in genomic sequencing, with its sequencing instruments generating most of the world’s sequencing data. Singapore is Illumina’s largest base outside of the US, with around 1,400 employees. Illumina’s largest production and manufacturing operations are housed here.
Today’s strategic partnership between PRECISE and Illumina, is an important step in realising our SG100K goals. By joining forces and tapping on each other’s strengths and expertise, we are better placed to deliver on our shared ambitions for a healthier Singapore, and to demonstrate the value of precision medicine in Asia and around the world.
The partnership will also see PRECISE and Illumina collaborating on enterprise-grade data exchange platforms for the secure handling and sharing of anonymised data, and the development of Artificial Intelligence approaches for genomics analysis.
Local sequencing companies will also benefit from this collaboration, through training and certification in the usage of Illumina’s platforms, allowing them to access new markets in the region and internationally.
The partnership between PRECISE and Illumina is built on decades of our commitment to R&D and industry development, especially in biomedical sciences, or BMS.
Over the years, we have built up more than ten BMS research institutions, including the Genome Institute of Singapore and the Bioinformatics Institute.
We have reached out to and attracted many global companies, including Illumina, to set up base in Singapore.
We also created a vibrant start-up ecosystem, with many promising start-ups, some of which are in the precision medicine space.
Through these efforts, the BMS sector now accounts for $18billion of our GDP and over 25,000 jobs.
As importantly, we have fostered a strong culture of collaboration among stakeholders, such that working in partnership is often the instinctive mode of operation.
What we are witnessing today is borne out of these strong foundations. Partnerships such as these will not only improve our healthcare system and the health of populations in Singapore and Asia, but also strengthen Singapore’s position as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation, and enterprise.
In conclusion, it gives me great pleasure to witness this important partnership between PRECISE and Illumina, which goes towards realising our goals for SG100K and precision medicine. This will in turn lead to a healthier population and better quality of life. I wish everyone success. Thank you.
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