Innovation

Revolutionizing healthcare with innovation

22 May 2017 by Liew Hanqing

In an exclusive interview with medical technology giant Thermo Fisher Scientific, Alan Sachs, Chief Scientific Officer, Calvin Boon, Senior Director for Singapore R&D, and Ravi Shastri, Vice President and General Manager, Southeast Asia and Taiwan, weigh in on how the company plans on improving healthcare, one innovative product at a time from their Asia base in Singapore.

Alan Sachs, Chief Scientific Officer. Image credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

Why is medical technology (med tech) innovation an important growth area for the healthcare industry at large? What are some of the areas of med tech innovation that your company is focusing on that will shape the future of healthcare?

Alan: Med Tech innovation is an important growth area, given that patient testing will become more and more distributed – and, at some point, be conducted in the home setting.  This will improve the health of patients, decrease the costs of healthcare delivery due to poorly-managed conditions, and create entirely new markets for innovation.  We are focusing on our ability to create an ecosystem of connected devices that will provide our customers with all the tools they will need to be successful in such a decentralized environment.

Calvin Boon, Senior Director for Singapore R&D. Image credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

Could you tell us about the most revolutionary technologies that have come out of your company's business operations in Singapore? 

Calvin: Singapore R&D developed the first cloud-enabled instrument for the company, ushering in a new era of exceptional connectivity to scientific researchers that has until recently not been available for products in the consumer world. With the development of the Applied Biosystems™ QuantStudio™ 3 and 5 Real-Time PCR Systems, Thermo Fisher Scientific is at the leading edge of redefining the norm for global collaboration in Life science and medical research. 

Some of the key features of these high-performance benchtop instruments include allowing users to remotely monitor their runs real time on mobile devices, through our Thermo Fisher Cloud. This mobile remote monitoring feature is activated when a compatible instrument is synced to the Thermo Fisher Cloud, enabling the automatic transfer of experimental run results from instrument to device, which really helps our customers save time and  makes lab life easier. On this single platform, our customers can analyze more data faster and perform various types of preliminary analysis with our suite of professional analytical tools. This gives back valuable hours spent trying to find the right tools for their data analysis to users. In addition, the Thermo Fisher Cloud securely stores and protects sensitive data in a data vault, which provides a secure environment for easy access and sharing of vast amounts of data, anytime and anywhere. 

Ravi Shastri, Vice President and General Manager, Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Image credit: Thermo Fisher Scientific

Why did you choose Singapore to drive this development work?

Ravi: Asia-Pacific continues to be our fastest-growing market and a central contributor to our growth. For nearly 15 years, Singapore has been the central hub for our Asia-Pacific operations, due to its strategic location. With the opening of our larger and better-equipped facility, we aim to further enhance our Singapore facility and improve the expertise of our local team, to strengthen our regional and global presence in the clinical supplies industry.

The move to our newly-built facility last year will meet the growing demand for clinical supply services in the region by providing both regional and global pharmaceutical and biotech companies with a one-stop service for clinical supplies − from GMP storage, local labeling, secondary packaging, comparator sourcing, handling and distribution of ambient and cold chain supplies to returns management.

In the course of product development, did you work with any Singapore-based institutions or organizations, and how did these organizations support the product development process?

Calvin: Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Singapore R&D department is unique in that it supports instrument development across all divisions globally. Hence, to satisfy the needs of the businesses across this breadth of technology, we require a broad base of expertise in most science and engineering domains. However, having all of these resources in-house is unrealistic and cost prohibitive. The Singapore R&D department employs a “hub-and-spoke” strategy where Singapore-based design firms, universities and research institutions play significant roles in supporting the development of instrument platforms.

We engage multinationals and small enterprises in rapid prototyping of new design concepts, sub-system/module designs and, where appropriate, we utilize their in-house “off-the-shelf” designs. In many instances, these relationships blossom into mass-production of sub-assemblies.

The research institutions are a source of potential IP licensing opportunities and an avenue for consultative services for specialized technical areas. An example is the collaboration with metrology and measurement systems with the National Metrology Center.

With the universities, we have an extensive internship program. By partnering with our talent acquisition colleagues, top students from a variety of departments spend up to six months with our senior engineers/scientists and participate in the design and testing of our prototypes. These interns are both innovative and highly motivated in forging a career in R&D. This serves as an excellent source of local top talent for the department and company. 

Could you share a couple of anecdotes from the product development process - what were some of the most memorable highs and lows of a project particularly close to your heart?

Ravi: There is a never a dull moment in the product development process. Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure when we need to bring in projects on time and on budget. Having said that, there are more highs than lows. Obviously the highest high is when the product is perfect for a launch in the market, meets our customers' needs around accelerating innovation and increasing productivity, and is well-received.

Invoking the concept of being Future Ready, how has operating within Singapore’s biomedical sciences landscape been like for med tech players like yourself?  

Alan: Singapore’s long-term and significant investment in the biomedical sciences, and in particular, the unwavering focus on translational sciences, has provided incentives for us to focus our R&D in specific areas. Examples include using next-generation sequencing as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment decision process for cancer, applying our expertise in bio-production to build instrumentation used to manufacture biologics, and applying our expertise in stem cell biology to advance regenerative medicine efforts.

Edited by Yen Feng and Tan Yi Xuan