Q:You founded your own medical technology (medtech), company Rockeby Biomed, which produces test kits for diseases ranging from flu to HIV, but left in 2009. Why?
I wanted a change in environment and to come back to more policy-related work.
But in those nine years as an entrepreneur, I gained invaluable experience understanding the challenges of commercialising medical technologies.
I learnt early the hard realities of developing medical technology in
Q: So now that you're deputy executive director of the
Definitely not. I can share what I have learnt with doctors, engineers and scientists, and many are keen to develop their own medtech products.
Few are able to fully grasp what is needed to take their technology to consumers, such as the need for deep pockets. Inventors should have a business model, and know whether patients and doctors would be willing to pay for it. You'd be surprised how many don't.
I was a former Nominated Member of Parliament where I used to be an advocate for small and medium-sized enterprises. I have formed good networks with policymakers there. This allows me to get their attention and push through medtech-related policies faster.
Q: Given that it can take 20 years for a promising drug to make it to market, is medtech considered low-hanging fruit?
Firms usually invent products, go into trials and get regulatory approval - it can take many years.
But there have been success stories. Take
We see more similar companies using
Q: What has the progress been so far?
Global medtech firms also have their regional headquarters in
Q:What are the most exciting products or devices local inventors are working on here?
One example is a brain computer interface invented by A*Star's
Users wear a headband with sensors and they use brainwaves to trigger signals for other activities. The headband is usually hooked up to a screen and, when users concentrate hard enough, they can move an object on the screen.
This is useful for those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It trains them to concentrate and it is a self-rewarding mechanism where you can see results on the screen.
Q:But challenges remain?
Yes. One key challenge is talent shortage. We are addressing this issue with programmes, such as the Singapore-Stanford Biodesign Fellowship, to train doctors, engineers and scientists to be future medtech innovators. We teach them to think business and be market-oriented while developing devices.
Our local clinical and regulatory environment should also support testing and streamlining the registration of novel and first-in-class medical devices.
The Asean common market in 2015 will help to achieve this in some way by harmonising medical device standards across Asean countries.
Q: So what needs to be done first?
Currently, firms need to reach market capitalisation of
We need such attractive policies to make
Q:How will the industry benefit ordinary people here, and when will this happen?
At this stage, many local small and medium-sized enterprises are in the product development phase.
As more start to move further towards the market phase, it will be very exciting to see our local innovations used in our hospitals, clinics and in daily life.
Telehealth will become a big thing as consumers interact on health-care matters through their smart devices.
For example, if you broke a hip in a fall, an app on your mobile device could simultaneously send alerts for an ambulance and to inform your next of kin and neighbours of the accident.
I want to see someone's health improve or lives saved with home-grown medical devices.
Q: Personally, why do you do what you do?
I have been fascinated with science since I was a boy, playing and experimenting with chemistry at home, building my own personal computers and figuring out why things work.
Now, my job involves helping engineers link up with doctors. In the process of getting to know them, I get to know in detail fascinating inventions which rely on cool disciplines such as microfluidics, additive manufacturing, flexible materials, and wireless connectivity.
To see the amazing results from interdisciplinary collaborations reinforces my interest in science, particularly in medical devices.
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