- POSTED: 25 Sep 2013 23:47
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A biodegradable heart stent and a drug that fights glaucoma are some of the inventions that have earned eight of Singapore's top research scientists and engineers the President's Science and Technology Awards this year.
SINGAPORE: A biodegradable heart stent and a drug that fights glaucoma are some of the inventions that have earned eight of Singapore's top research scientists and engineers the President's Science and Technology Awards this year.
Of the eight, two have also received the President's Science and Technology Medal - the highest of such honours.
The two are Professor Freddy Boey, Provost and Deputy President of Nanyang Technological University, and Professor Barry Halliwell, Deputy President (Research & Technology) of National University of Singapore.
Professor Boey may be known as a scientist and inventor. But that doesn't mean his work is confined to the laboratory.
Also an entrepreneur, many of his inventions have had an impact not just in Singapore, but worldwide as well.
From a fully biodegradable drug eluting stent - with a world market value of US$1 billion - to a new anti-glaucoma drug more recently, Professor Freddy Boey's contributions have earned him this year's President's Science and Technology Medal.
The new anti-glaucoma drug is currently being tested on five patients in Singapore, and could place Singapore on the world medical map again.
The drug is wrapped in nano-sized capsules that are delivered by an injection into the outer layer in the front of the eye. The nano-carrier will then slowly release the drug over time.
Professor Boey said there are some challenges involved when it comes to commercialising inventions.
He said: "I'm a scientist. I want to do what I'm best at, which is inventing. I don't run companies. So while I (can) start up a few companies, you need good people to run these companies and this is where Singapore lacks experience, managers experienced to run start-up companies. They're a rare breed of people. This is where the bottleneck is."
He added it will take time for more expertise to be built up.
He said: "Over time this will solve itself, but meantime I'm trying to develop my own people working with me - the post-docs, the PhD graduates - to encourage them to start becoming managers, CTOs, and then gain that experience.
"You've got to start somewhere and subsequently years later they become experienced people who can run start-up companies. I've even encouraged them to start up their own companies."
As for Professor Halliwell, apart from being one of the world's most highly-cited researchers in his field - which includes Biology and Biochemistry, Neuroscience and Behaviour - he has also built up the research structure in NUS.
In the last 15 years he has been at the university, competitive research funding has tripled and is now over $500 million per year worth of investments.
Professor Halliwell said: "When I came, the first job I was given was head of the department and it was very difficult to recruit people. They thought of Singapore as a backwater, a place that was off. You had to be in America or England or some European countries to do serious research.
"Now, we're inundated with people who want to come to work in Singapore. So it's really on the world map in doing outstanding research. What I'm particularly proud of is the research front of NUS. It's not only in certain small areas, it's across the board. It's material science, biomedical, humanities, social science, quantum science...I could go on for a long time."
Professor Halliwell is now taking a closer look at ageing, in particular, why some people age well and others don't. He said this research could possibly lead to discoveries in preventive and therapeutic interventions.