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MOH officially launches new research programme to prepare Singapore for future pandemics

The programme's immediate task will be to work closely with the Ministry of Health to develop a national epidemic research and development plan and will have a research funding of S$100 million over five years.

02:30 Min
A new programme that aims to build up Singapore’s preparedness and response capabilities for future pandemics was officially launched by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Nov 3).

SINGAPORE: A new programme that aims to build up Singapore’s preparedness and response capabilities for future pandemics was officially launched by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Nov 3).

The Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Response’s (PREPARE) immediate task will be to work closely with MOH to develop a national epidemic research and development plan.

Led by Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS Medical School and Professor David Lye from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the programme is supported by MOH’s National Medical Research Council and administered by NCID.

Speaking at the launch of the programme, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that having a dedicated research programme will help to bring together multi-disciplinary experts throughout the pandemic research ecosystem in a coordinated fashion.

He added that this will also further strengthen Singapore’s existing capabilities by forming research networks as well as developing necessary tools, methods, and products to respond to future infectious disease outbreak threats.

Internationally, the new programme will strengthen research partnerships, share information and knowledge, and collaborate in clinical trials with various institutions in the region, he said.

Mr Ong said it will also be Singapore’s connection to international pandemic research forums and platforms, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

During his speech, Mr Ong highlighted the contributions made by several researchers including Prof Wang, whose team managed to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus within days of the first local confirmed COVID-19 case.

“Our years of investment in biomedical research and our accumulation of experts across a diverse field has paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis,” he said.

“Without the reservoir of capabilities and talent that was built up over the years, we would not have been able to respond to the pandemic as effectively as we had.”

“Our experience in pandemic crisis management also portends modern policy making – grounded on scientific evidence and data, informed by research findings.”

“These pandemic preparedness and response capabilities should be consolidated and built upon further.”

The programme was first announced in December 2020 during the launch of Singapore’s S$25 billion plan to drive research, innovation and enterprise for the next five years.

During MOH’s committee of supply debate last year, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary said the programme will help to accelerate the development of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines as well as establish a national infectious disease repository and database for research and data analysis.

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, co-chair of the PREPARE steering committee, told reporters on Thursday that some research plans have already started to be implemented since the programme was announced in 2020. Grant calls have been made and proposals are being looked at, he added.

The programme has funding of about S$100 million over five years.

"The amount I think will be sized for the types of work that have been committed and should be adequate, I think, for the five-year period," he said.

Prof Tan added: “My expectation is that we will be able to deliver the types of objectives that led to the creation of PREPARE, at which point of course then, further funding will be extended, because this will be a capability that will be needed over the longer term."

During a panel discussion at the launch event, Prof Wang, who is PREPARE’s executive director, said the programme will help to bridge the gap between innovative science and products that make a real impact on the ground.

Speaking to reporters, he said the programme will set targets including determining how a new virus is transmitted within one month and developing diagnostic products in 100 days.

“We need to work with (biotech companies and their manufacturers) during peacetime so that we can deliver 100-day target for a rapid test for whatever disease X is,” said Prof Wang.

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Source: CNA/vl(gr)


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