Fujitsu opens biomedical lab in S'pore

Lab know-how and technology will be used to support research initiatives from local institutions, with co-partner A*STAR hoping to licence technology to SMBs.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--In collaboration with the government's agency for research and development (R&D), the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Fujitsu has opened its first biomedical research facility in the Southeast Asia region to drive research on the diagnosis of cancer and diseases. The lab also hopes to work with small and midsize businesses (SMBs) as well as educational institutions in the process.

At the launch of the facility on Wednesday, Shozo Fujita, director of Fujitsu Laboratories and R&D division, Fujitsu Asia highlighted its work in aptamer technology, which is a manufacturing process producing an antibody-alternative. This alternative can be used in place of antibodies to diagnose diseases with higher consistency and at lower cost, because they are chemically produced.

Fujita said the company's modified DNA aptamer is able to detect diseases much faster than antibodies. He added that the shelf life for aptamer is longer and easier to obtain as it is produced in test tubes, compared with antibodies which are obtained from animals.

The technology will be shared to support research initiatives from local institutes Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC), National University of Singapore (NUS), National University Hospital (NUH) and the Cancer Science Institute (CSI), he said.

Diseases studied will include prostate and gastric cancer, cardiovascular diseases and dengue.

Muhammad Tani Bin Tabiin, senior vice president, biomedical sciences division of A*STAR Exploit Technologies, hopes that by the end of the three-year time frame, the participating institutes will be able to come up with improved diagnostic applications.

Tabiin added that the agency hopes to be able to spin off the technology into a diagnostic company or license the technology to local SMBs. Most SMBs are distributors for large pharmaceutical companies, so their profit margins are reliant on their suppliers, he said.

The move to license the technology to this segment is also in line with the Singapore government's plans to grow SMBs by 2015, he added.

A*STAR has put S$4 million (US$2.88 million) into the project. However, Fujitsu was unable to disclose its share of the investment.

According to Fujita, Fujitsu has chosen Singapore as its fourth research lab in Asia, outside of Japan, due to reasons such as the proximity of the countries and sharing similar time zones.

He also noted that by setting up the laboratory in an English-speaking country, it would be easier to venture out into the global market with the final product. If the research was done in Japan, the researchers would think and write in Japanese instead, he said.

The opening of the research lab is the latest collaboration between Fujitsu and A*STAR. In January, Fujitsu partnered with the Singapore agency to develop applications using the Japanese company's supercomputer technologies.

In his opening speech, A*STAR Chairman Lim Chuan Poh pointed out that the local biomedical manufacturing output had grown to about S$21 billion last year and now employs more than 13,000 people.

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