Dr. Portia Grace Fernandez-Marcelo (Image credit: NTHC )
OpenGov had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Portia Grace Fernandez-Marcelo, Director of the UP (University of Philippines) Manila-National Telehealth Center (NTHC) about using ICT to provide equitable access to quality healthcare for all, specially in isolated and disadvantaged communities.
NTHC is one of the pioneers in the Philippines developing cost-effective ICT tools and innovations for improving healthcare and deploying solutions in communities where they are required most urgently. The Center partners with various government and non-government institutions in the areas of eMedicine, eRecords, eSurveillance, eLearning and eHealth Policy Advocacy, .
Dr. Marcelo has occupied the position of Director at NTHC since 2011. She has extensive experience and deep expertise in community medicine and global health, and is concurrently an Associate Professor at UP Manila’s College of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine since 1993.
Can you provide us a bit of background on the NTHC?
In the late 90s, there was an emerging desire to connect with communities online. NTHC was established in 1998, as a means for UP Manila to reach out across the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, looking at new ways of supporting health professionals and engaging with communities, going beyond the conventional physical face-to-face events.
NTHC is the e-Health research and development institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH ), which is also part of UP Manila.
NTHC explores innovations in the use of ICT for health. As a state university, it is part of UP Manila’s mandate to do research for finding better ways to address the problem of inequity and offer real solutions to pressing problems.
In the initial years, people were just beginning to grapple with the use of ICT for healthcare in a non-traditional way. Internet connectivity in Philippines was very poor. Mobile phones were just becoming popular.
The ICT infrastructure in the university itself was being improved. Awareness raising that ICTs can help improve health became a campaign. Research opportunities were tapped in order to prove that technology works, that health workers will use it and that it will improve their efficiency and help them care better for their patients. A lot of the research began small, with pilot tests.
At that time, NTHC was already working with government and international grant providers. Through its initial R&D output, NTHC already raised issues of the need for ICT standards and national health ICT architecture but these were hardly appreciated.
The faculty went abroad to study in the late 1990s. Then they came home to Philippines and continued their research, and pushed for the formalisation of education in medical / health informatics in the university.
When I came on board as the director in 2011, I built on all that work, essentially expanding footprint and building on the technologies and operations that were developed previously. These heightened further UP Manila's national policy advocacy work for eHealth as an enabler and driver of national health development.
What are the areas of focus for NTHC?
Philippines’ geographic character of an archipelago of islands poses one kind of challenge for healthcare access. Filipino health professionals are world-class, yet there is mal-distribution of capacities and expertise across the country, concentrated mainly in urban centers. Other social problems and political neglect shape health inequity; the urban poor, in particular, also do not have access to healthcare.
Telemedicine is a key channel for improving access to healthcare for isolated and disadvantaged communities. We spent the first 15 years demonstrating that it can work, extending reach by rural remote communities to the clinical experts of the UP Manila, the national health sciences center. Albeit still at infancy stages, regional medical experts have come on board to serve their respective regions through telecare.
The next step would be to formalise telehealth as a modality of care in the Philippines, specially for our remote and disadvantaged communities. Government legislation must be revised and the Medical Act of 1959 has to be updated to account for the use of ICT in healthcare. While ICT has become pervasive in all walks of life, current and future health professionals – and even those in other relevant disciplines such as engineering, computer science, and the social sciences - have to be trained better to be capable of using the ICT tools in a safe and ethical manner.
The legislation needs to be supportive of the health system and protective of patients. Two House Bills on telehealth were filed in 2012 and 2014 Congress of the Philippines, but were not legislated. They have yet to be re-filed under this current government administration to ensure continuity and full integration in the Philippine health care delivery system.
Also among our pioneer projects is the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS) - an electronic medical record (EMR) system to improve tracking and improving patient care, and facility level health information management at the primary care Rural Health Unit (RHU) level. Its efficacy is recognized through its adoption by over 200 RHUs, as well as two international and five Philippine national awards in the last decade.
What are the projects NTHC is currently working on?
Telehealth and CHITS provided the base for subsequent research and innovations, including exploring how mobile phones could work for health care.
We linked CHITS and mobile phones to put together for Real-Time CHITS or rCHITS, as part of a UNICEF funded project and implemented in a few towns in Mindanao, south of the Philippines. It was meant to link midwives posted in the barangays or villages. Public health workers, such as midwives were trained in using cellphones and computers to document and report health data. We linked them to a single database, and allow real-time monitoring of maternal and child health indicators. Data is displayed in a local government health dashboard.
Immediate action can be done by respective authorities if necessary. rCHITS was intended to empower local governments. Based on rCHITS, local leaders can take evidence-based decisions to improve health outcomes in their local communities.
With partners, we modelled a telehealth-enabled service delivery network for pregnant mothers. This was a response to the major problems of transfer of patients needing more complex care across health facilities. For the longest time, clinicians can only give a referral slip and ask patients to go to a hospital of their choice. The poor patient, who lacks the medical expertise, decides for himself where to go. More often than not, his decision will be driven his (lack of) monetary resources. This is actually a cop out on part of the health system.
But if the health facilities are better governed, adequately funded, equipped and organised in a system, poor patients can receive quality care, with the guarantee he will still be cared for in the best possible way even if he transfers from one clinic to another. The health system becomes truly accountable, We saw encouraging results in Quezon City's campaign for better maternal and child health, aided by the Mag-Ina (mother & child) Telereferral System, or MiNTS. It draws relevant maternal data from the CHITS-EMR, alerts the hospitals of the referral of a high-risk pregnant mother, and notifies the primary care clinic where the patient originated from the outcomes of care. The Quezon City Health Office is able to monitor these high risk patients.
On another front the RxBox research program linked a diagnostic medical device to CHITS, and from CHITS to teleconsultation. If you needed to refer certain cases to specialists, EMR data, including relevant physiologic signals drawn from the medical device,can be transmitted seamlessly.
We also started discussing the issue of Unique identifier. Now that the ICT has gone from demonstrating potential to delivering benefits, it is leading to new concerns. How do you ensure that the “Portia Marcelo” in one hospital is the same as the one in another hospital? Our campaign for standards and governance was driven by these issues, raised by the health workers and IT engineers.
We - the UP Manila - contributed to the work in setting up the National eHealth Steering Committee (NESC) in 2013. The Committee is co-chaired by the Secretary of the Department Health (DOH) and the Secretary of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) as well as the Commission on Higher Education are members, likewise.
The eHealth community has expanded considerably in the Philippines, if one is to judge the many health “apps” that sprung in the recent years. This governance body ensures eHealth investments contribute to national health development in a more deliberate and integrated way. The Philippine National eHealth Strategy 2014 to 2020 was articulated, a product of broad participation and nationwide consultation. Defining standards and a national health ICT architecture integrated and cognisant of the country's national eGovernance framework are among foundations of the Strategy. More work needs to be done, but we've taken the fundamental steps.
NTHC is also convenor of the International Open Source Network ASEAN+3, created by the United Nations Development Program in 2007, and the Asia eHealth Information Network, in cooperation with the WHO-Western Pacific Regional Office in 2012.
The Philippine Health Information Exchange
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) controls the funding for public investments in ICT. DBM, along with the DOST ICT Office, encouraged the various sectors to organise themselves and integrate systems. For the healthcare sector, one of the outcomes was the Philippine Health Information Exchange (PHIE). It was set up jointly by NESC to bring together all players, including health facilities, health care providers, health information organizations, and government agencies.
PHIE became a driver for encouraging frontline primary health care centers to automate. Whereas in its infancy, the PHIE promises to ensure seamless health information transfer to allow continuity of care and administrative efficiency.
PhilHealth is turning out to be another important driver. PhilHealth, which runs the country's social insurance program, provides a sizable amount of money to primary care government facilities and it requires the submission of electronic information from primary care facilities through the PHIE. Those who already have EMRs are beefing up their systems. And those who have no EMRs are considering various systems that are available to them. March 2017 is the deadline. We have around 2500 government-funded health facilities in the municipalities. Around 1000 of them are using one form of EMR or another from one of 6 EMR providers. NTHC covers around 200, the Department of Health itself covers over a 1000.
At the moment, data integration remains elusive. Part of the discussion is about all the EMRs using the same ICT standards. The idea is that there would be one data entry and multiple uses through the information exchange. The GovCloud could hold all the data.
Can you tell us a little bit more about these cybersecurity and privacy concerns?
It is important for patients to believe we are trustworthy and that we can and will protect their information. Cybersecurity and privacy was always a part of the discussion for us. They were central to the way we were introducing and propagating technologies. Our projects are peer reviewed and they have to get clearance from the research ethics board at the university.
When the NESC was organised in 2013, a technical working group on privacy was also set up, since we want to exchange data through the PHIE. This expert group organised policies to protect the privacy of patients based on the Data Privacy Act, 2012. In fact, one of our faculty who sits in this expert group, Dr. Ivy D.Patdu eventually became a Deputy Commissioner of the National Privacy Commission (NPC).
The NPC was finally constituted in 2016 because the NESC campaigned for it, among others. Implementing rules and regulations were subsequently articulated. For the university, we had exhaustive discussions to discuss and disseminate the new rules and upgrading the university’ processes. This will be a continuing discussion.
Integral to all of NTHC's healthcare solutions is training and discussions on ethical use of these solutions and ethical health information management.
How does NTHC work with local administrations?
We have a small team of around 55, but our footprint appears big. That’s where local administrations come in.
As an example, we are partners with Quezon City and Navotas City, both invested in citywide CHITS; their health leaders and health workers collaborated to design what is the current version of CHITS. Pasay City was the birth place of CHITS in 2004, where the UP worked alongside health workers to shape an EMR that addressed their clinical as well as administrative reporting needs.
In Quezon City, the local government took it upon themselves to say we really want to take care of our mothers and children. Thus together, along with regional DOH office and the UNICEF, we prototyped the MiNTS. We were able to demonstrate successful transfer of patients, moving beyond tele consultations. We began with two lying-in clinics, MINTS will now be implemented in all of its 79 facilities city-wide.
We are going to try and replicate this in the provinces of Iloilo and Sultan Kudarat, where the RxBox and CHITs are already in place, again upon the initiative of their progressive physicians and their mayors. Now we are linking them better into the service delivery network.
Today, local governments have better awareness about the need to integrate health systems. It’s a good start. And communities themselves are witnessing success stories and appreciating the potential of these solutions.
 The National Institutes of Health (NIH) was created on January 26, 1996 by the UP Board of Regents to strengthen the research facility of UP Manila, and serve as an institutional home of a network of researchers and research institutions. NIH was established as a national health research center by the Philippine Government in 1998. In 2007, NIH became one of the four core agencies of the Philippine National Health Research Systems (PNHRS). PNHRS is part of a global movement, initiated by the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED) to establish national health research systems in country setting.
Departing from one of the busiest airports in the world is about to become a remarkably hassle-free experience. Singaporean ministers have just unveiled plans for an automated immigration clearance system that promises to revolutionise travel with no passport required. This groundbreaking development at Singapore’s Changi Airport is set to launch in 2024.
According to Communications Minister Josephine Teo, this ambitious project intends to eliminate the need for tourists to “repeatedly present their travel documents.” Instead, biometric data gathered from fingerprint scans and facial recognition technology will take the central stage.
While Changi Airport already employs biometric technology in its automated immigration lanes, these upcoming enhancements will take convenience to a whole new level. The goal is to make the entire airport experience smoother and more streamlined for passengers.
Singapore’s Communications Minister, Josephine Teo, proudly announced that Singapore is set to be among “the first few countries in the world” to implement such a groundbreaking system. The first phase of this transformative scheme is expected to roll out early next year, featuring QR code scanning points that will pave the way for the biometric revolution.
These innovations are made possible by recent amendments to Singapore’s immigration laws, which facilitate the widespread adoption of biometric clearance at airports and various other checkpoints. The result will be a travel experience where your personal information seamlessly verifies your identity at every stage, from check-in to boarding.
This monumental shift in travel procedures brings with it a multitude of benefits. Firstly, it eliminates the stress and anxiety associated with keeping track of physical documents throughout the journey. No more worrying about losing the passport or having it stolen, hence, the identity is in the hands, quite literally.
Additionally, using biometric data enhances security measures, making it even more challenging for unauthorised individuals to access restricted areas. It’s a win-win situation for both passengers and airport authorities.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is on the cusp of transforming the way of travelling. The introduction of an automated immigration clearance system powered by biometric data promises a future where passports and boarding passes become relics of the past.
Instead, a simple fingerprint scan or facial recognition will grant access to a seamless, stress-free journey. Singapore is leading the charge into this new era of travel, and the world will be watching closely as the innovation unfolds.
The New Clearance Concept (NCC) and Services Centre Next Generation (SCNG) are two initiatives that the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) implemented to enhance border clearance and registration services, as well as automated immigration clearance and digitalisation.
The Automated Clearance Initiative (ACI), which takes effect in May 2022, allows passport holders from 51 countries to use designated automated immigration lanes without prior enrolment. Over four million international visitors have been enrolled through ACI to date. The electronic visit pass (ePass) contains information on eligible foreign visitors’ enrolment.
During the pandemic-induced slowdown, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), in collaboration with Changi Airport Group and ground handling partners, has accelerated trials of autonomous vehicles (AVs) at Changi Airport’s airside. This time period was used to direct resources and capabilities towards technological and innovative developments.
Advanced robotic systems and adaptive platforms are also being developed to resist varied weather conditions and work well outside. These developments are intended to make aircraft turnaround operations and baggage handling easier, especially in inclement weather. CAAS is committed to strengthening its capabilities in order to manage the anticipated increase in air traffic, with a focus on both safety and efficiency in its operational approach.
A leading U.S.-based global player in the realm of advanced technology and innovation is embarking on a significant expansion venture into Malaysia. The CEO of the enterprise unveiled an ambitious strategy during a meeting with Malaysia’s Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry in New York City, aiming to invest a substantial sum exceeding RM2 billion over the span of seven years.
The construction of a cutting-edge manufacturing facility is already underway, which will serve a dual purpose as a global research and development hub, focusing on pioneering technology platforms. By the year 2024, this organisation foresees a pivotal role in augmenting production capacity and accommodating the ever-evolving demands of its expansive worldwide clientele.
The Minister offered a warm reception to the global expansion, accentuating the organisation’s initial investment commitment of RM500 million. This commitment dovetails seamlessly with Malaysia’s New Industrial Master Plan 2030, underlining the importance of nurturing an investment-friendly environment and swiftly assimilating technology into the manufacturing sector.
It solidifies Malaysia’s stature as a global epicentre for technology and innovation, fostering collaboration between the organization and local industry stakeholders, all while promising a surge in quality employment opportunities for Malaysians.
The CEO of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority conveyed his excitement regarding this significant commitment, recognizing its potential to catalyse mutually beneficial partnerships with domestic industry players, particularly in high-value, high-growth sectors. The organization’s long-term presence in Malaysia is poised to make a substantial contribution to the nation’s economic growth and development, with MIDA pledging unwavering support.
The President and CEO of the company expressed a sense of pride in expanding its global footprint and elevating its operations in Malaysia through the establishment of a cutting-edge manufacturing facility in Johor Bahru. This facility is slated to become the linchpin for catering to global customers across diverse sectors and holds the promise of swift market entry. The suite of incentives offered by various government entities, spanning federal, state, and local levels, coupled with robust infrastructure support, make this expansion a judicious and strategic investment.
OpenGov Asia recently reported that the substantial investments pouring into Malaysia during the first half of 2023, totalling RM132.6 billion (US$28.4 billion) and expected to generate over 51,853 job opportunities, are a clear testament to the nation’s attractiveness to global investors. These investments align perfectly with Malaysia’s vision of becoming a prominent hub for technology, innovation, and economic growth.
The Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry (MITI) expressed his satisfaction with Malaysia’s performance, emphasising the nation’s consistent efforts to attract high-quality investments and drive economic growth. Importantly, Malaysia managed to secure an impressive 60.3% of its annual investment target within the first half of the year, reflecting its ability to execute on its investment plans effectively.
A significant portion of these investments, 52.2%, came from Domestic Direct Investment (DDI), totalling RM69.3 billion (US$14.8 billion). DDI’s remarkable growth, a 58.2% increase compared to the previous year, was driven by investments in services and the primary sector, notably real estate. This surge in domestic investment showcases the confidence of Malaysian businesses in the nation’s economic prospects.
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) also played a pivotal role, contributing 47.8% of total approved investments, equivalent to RM63.3 billion (US$13.6 billion). Notably, Singapore emerged as the leading source of FDI with RM13.7 billion (US$2.9 billion), followed closely by countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, China, and the British Virgin Islands. This international investment inflow underscores Malaysia’s global appeal and its ability to attract funds from diverse sources.
Malaysia’s ability to attract significant investments, coupled with its supportive policies, strategic positioning, role as a supply chain hub, and growing innovation capabilities, reflects the nation’s commitment to becoming a global technology and innovation hub while fostering economic growth and job creation.
A representative of the country’s think tank, the National Institute of Transforming India (NITI Aayog), Ramesh Chand, formally introduced the Unified Portal for Agricultural Statistics (UPAg Portal). This marks a significant step in tackling the complex governance issues in India’s agricultural sector. It is designed to optimise and elevate data management within the agricultural sphere. It will contribute to a more efficient and responsive agricultural policy framework.
The portal standardises data related to prices, production, area, yield, and trade, consolidating it in a single location. This eliminates the necessity to compile data from multiple sources. The portal can also conduct advanced analytics, providing insights into production trends, trade correlations, and consumption patterns.
Furthermore, the portal will produce granular production estimates with increased frequency, improving the government’s capacity to respond swiftly to agricultural crises. Commodity profile reports will be generated using algorithms, reducing subjectivity and providing users with comprehensive insights. Users also have the flexibility to use the portal’s data for crafting their own reports, fostering a culture of data-driven decision-making.
The portal was developed by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (DA&FW). During his speech, Chand hailed the platform as an investment and a monumental leap forward in the field of agricultural data management. He encouraged the audience to embrace a shift in mindset within agriculture, aimed at bringing about transformative changes. Research suggests that US$ 1 invested in data generated a US$ 32 impact, he said.
The portal empowers stakeholders with real-time, reliable, and standardised information, laying the foundation for more effective agricultural policies. He also asserted that when data is more objective, the room for subjective judgment in policy-making diminishes, resulting in more stable, transparent, and well-informed decisions. He advised that the portal should prioritise data credibility to maximise its effectiveness.
Secretary of the DA&FW, Manoj Ahuja, underscored the various ongoing initiatives by the department, such as the Krishi Decision Support System, the farmer registry, and crop surveys. He articulated that the UPAg Portal is envisioned as a public good, aiming to provide users with reduced search costs, minimised obstacles, and access to trustworthy, detailed, and impartial data. According to a press release, the UPAg portal tackles the following challenges:
Lack of Standardised Data: At present, agricultural data is scattered across multiple sources, often presented in diverse formats and units. The UPAg Portal’s objective is to centralise this data into a standardised format, making it easily accessible and understandable for users.
Lack of Verified Data: Reliable data is crucial for accurate policy decisions. UPAg Portal ensures that data from sources like Agmarknet is vetted and updated regularly, ensuring policymakers receive accurate information on agricultural prices.
Fragmented Data Sources: To construct a comprehensive understanding of any crop, it is necessary to consider multiple variables such as production, trade, and prices. The portal consolidates data from various sources, enabling a holistic assessment of agricultural commodities.
Inconsistent Frequency Variables: Data updates at different times, causing delays and inefficiencies. The portal offers real-time connectivity with data sources, reducing the time and effort required for monitoring and analysis.
The UPAg Portal is expected to play a pivotal role within the Digital Public Infrastructure for Agriculture, focusing on harnessing the diversity of the agriculture sector and leveraging data as a catalyst for growth.
The University of Michigan has developed machine-learning algorithms technology. This new technology can identify problematic areas in antibodies, making them less susceptible to binding non-target molecules. This innovative development, led by Peter Tessier, the Albert Mattocks Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at U-M and the study’s corresponding author in Nature Biomedical Engineering, presents a ground-breaking solution to enhance the effectiveness of antibodies in fighting diseases.
“Antibodies play a crucial role in our immune system’s defence mechanism by binding to specific molecules known as antigens on disease-causing agents, such as the spike protein on the COVID-19 virus,” Tessier expressed, “Once bound, antibodies either directly neutralise harmful viruses or cells or signal the body’s immune cells to take action.”
However, there’s a challenge associated with antibodies designed to bind strongly and rapidly to their specific antigens. These antibodies may also bind to non-antigen molecules, leading to their premature removal from the body. Moreover, they can interact with other antibodies of the same type, forming dense solutions that do not easily flow through the needles used for delivering antibody drugs.
Tessier highlighted the importance of antibodies that can simultaneously perform three critical tasks: tightly binding to their intended target, repelling each other, and disregarding other substances within the body. Antibodies failing to meet all three criteria are unlikely to be successful drugs. Unfortunately, a significant number of clinical-stage antibodies fall short in this regard.
In their recent study, Tessier’s team assessed the activity of 80 clinical-stage antibodies in the laboratory. It made a startling discovery – 75% of these antibodies interacted with the wrong molecules, with each other, or both. To address this issue, the team turned to machine learning.
By making subtle changes to the amino acids that make up an antibody, they can alter the antibody’s three-dimensional structure. This modification helps prevent antibodies from behaving improperly, as an antibody’s structure determines the substances it can bind to. However, making changes without careful consideration can introduce more problems than they solve, and the typical antibody contains hundreds of amino acid positions that could be altered.
Fortunately, machine learning offers a streamlined solution. Tessier’s team created models that are trained using experimental data collected from clinical-stage antibodies. These models can precisely identify how to modify antibodies to ensure they meet all three criteria mentioned earlier, with an impressive accuracy rate of 78% to 88%. This approach significantly reduces the number of antibody modifications that chemical and biomedical engineers need to produce and test in the lab.
Tiexin Wang, a doctoral student in chemical engineering and a co-author of the study, emphasised the pivotal role of machine learning in accelerating drug development. This advanced technology is already attracting attention from biotech companies, which recognise its potential for optimising the development of next-generation therapeutic antibodies.
Tessier concluded by mentioning that some companies have developed antibodies with desirable biological activity but are aware of potential challenges when using these antibodies as drugs. In such cases, Tessier’s team steps in to identify specific areas within the antibodies that require modification, offering valuable assistance to these companies.
The National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek, and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to begin a collaborative S$75 million pilot programme that intends to hasten the development of profitable deep tech start-ups from NUS and NTU research pipelines.
Additionally, a shared Intellectual Property (IP) licencing framework between NTU Singapore and NUS would speed up the licencing and translation of university innovations for spin-off businesses. In contrast to the typical process, which can take up to five months, the outcome will be a shorter one-month process.
“The collaboration sees us synergising our expertise and resources to create opportunities for applications of emerging technologies and empower start-ups and companies to create positive societal impact and economic growth through innovation,” said Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of NUS.
He added that NUS is excited to leverage its rich expertise and experience in entrepreneurship and innovation to help mature its deep tech ecosystem and facilitate and accelerate IP commercialisation through the framework.
NTU and NUS will each contribute S$5 million to the deep tech start-ups, with Temasek contributing S$65 million. In order to start and develop globally competitive businesses with tremendous potential to address significant global market opportunities in areas including the energy transition, biotechnology, and the future of computation and cognition, Temasek and a deep-tech company will work with NTU and NUS.
To build and refine their go-to-market plans, the deep tech founders will work with the university technical and intellectual property teams. The start-ups will also have access to the networks of firms and mentors offered by Temasek, NTU, and NUS. Every year, at least two start-ups will be introduced, and to help them position themselves for long-term success on a global scale, they will get investment, support, and entrepreneurial mentoring.
Temasek makes investments in cutting-edge innovation to pinpoint and develop skills that are future-focused. By investing in and developing future deep tech champions, its Emerging Technologies division helps to scale Singapore’s deep tech ecosystem and finds disruptive technology investment possibilities that address market nuances.
To give prospective licensors a one-stop shop where they may find and choose IPs from both universities that meet their business needs, NTU and NUS will also create a single online portal.
Advanced materials, biotechnology, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the cutting-edge topics that deep tech businesses frequently concentrate on. By helping these entrepreneurs, Singapore can encourage ground-breaking inventions that could revolutionise whole sectors of the economy and enhance human welfare.
The nation acknowledges that deep tech companies can boost economic growth, add to the GDP of a nation, and generate high-value jobs. These firms frequently draw talent and call for certain talents, which helps to create new sectors and grow ones that already exist.
Numerous deep tech startups are tackling urgent global issues like cybersecurity, healthcare, and climate change. By helping these firms, technology that tackles these important problems may be developed.
Investing in the development of deep tech startups can provide nations and regions with a competitive edge in the global technology market. Through the promotion of creativity and enterprise, they can establish themselves as pioneers in developing technological domains.
The benefits of nurturing deep tech businesses are not limited to the technological and commercial spheres; they also include wider societal advantages. These businesses frequently tread new ground in ways that improve people’s quality of life and promote environmental sustainability.
The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) participated in the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) on September 19th at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.
HKSTP, Hong Kong’s largest innovation and technology (I&T) ecosystem and incubator, will led a group of leaders in the health and biotech sectors to discuss how Hong Kong can support biotech startups and major pharmaceutical companies in France to expand successfully and tap into the vast potential of Asia’s healthcare markets. In turn, French expertise and talent will contribute to Hong Kong’s aspiration to become a global hub for biotech and innovation technology.
Key figures like France’s Minister for Foreign Trade, Economic Attractiveness, and French Nationals Abroad, and the Financial Secretary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government will join prominent business leaders at the event, including the Chairman of HKTDC, and the CEO of HKSTP to explore collaborative opportunities between the French and Hong Kong I&T ecosystems.
The Asia Pacific region is poised to be the world’s fastest-growing biotech hub, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 16.9% from 2022 to 2030, according to Vision Research. This region is witnessing improvements in healthcare infrastructure, supportive government policies, and the increasing challenge of an aging population. Hong Kong’s strategic location makes it an ideal gateway to both the substantial North Asian markets and the rapidly expanding Southeast Asian economies.
To address these opportunities and challenges, HKSTP is hosting a biotech-focused session and pavilion at the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium. Four prominent executives from thriving Hong Kong-based biotech companies will showcase the city’s capacity to drive innovation on a global scale.
In parallel, French startups, fuelled by record funding in 2022, are seeking expansion opportunities, aligning with the French government’s Healthcare Innovation 2030 plan. This plan, with a substantial budget, aims to position France as a leader in biotech innovation in Europe.
The CEO of HKSTP emphasised that Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, provides diverse opportunities for French biotech companies to scale up and venture into global markets. French expertise will also play a crucial role in Hong Kong’s ambition to become an international innovation hub.
Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s leading biotech funding hub is reinforced by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s biotech-friendly Chapter 18A listing policy. Additionally, it ranks 12th in the World Index of Healthcare Innovation, surpassing countries like the United Kingdom and Canada. The government’s support includes the InnoHK initiative, featuring 14 research clusters dedicated to biomedical and health tech, situated at Hong Kong Science Park.
HKSTP has established a thriving, fully integrated biotech ecosystem that guides ventures through every stage of the startup-to-scale-up journey. It hosts around 250 biotech ventures, benefiting from incubation programs such as the dedicated Incu-Bio program, subsidies, and supportive government policies. Hong Kong boasts world-class talent, with five universities ranked in the top 100 globally, and China’s projected annual output of 77,000 STEM PhDs per year by 2025, surpassing the US.
Moreover, HKSTP has fostered significant collaborations with global pharmaceutical leaders and healthcare institutions, facilitating expansion into the Greater Bay Area (GBA), China, the Asia Pacific, and global markets.
Hong Kong already boasts a substantial French presence, with 800 French businesses, including subsidiaries and regional headquarters, according to the French Embassy. Interested parties can participate in the HKTSP biotech pavilion and hear from leaders in biotech innovation, as well as other experts in the innovation ecosystem, at the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” symposium.
In Singapore’s healthcare landscape, Prof Kenneth Mak, Director-General of Health at the Ministry of Health, emphasised the significance of the theme “Reimagining Possibilities – The Pharmacist’s DNA” at this year’s congress which underscores the adaptability and crucial role of pharmacists in healthcare.
Prof Kenneth stated that like DNA’s unchanging core, pharmacists must uphold their fundamental values while adapting to challenges like an ageing population and increasing healthcare expenses. Telemedicine emerges as a pivotal avenue through which pharmacists are driving the transformation of patient-centred care.
“As we journey towards Healthier SG and beyond, pharmacists are at the forefront of digital innovation in healthcare,” said Prof Kenneth. They are embracing telemedicine, collaborating with other healthcare professionals, and continually evolving to meet the challenges of a changing healthcare landscape. The pharmacist’s DNA remains rooted in patient-centred care, but it also incorporates innovation and adaptability, making pharmacists an essential part of the future of healthcare.
Telemedicine, the remote delivery of healthcare services using digital technology, has gained momentum globally, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has revolutionised the way patients access medical care, allowing them to consult with healthcare providers from the comfort of their homes. The integration of pharmacists into telemedicine initiatives holds immense promise in improving healthcare accessibility, efficiency, and patient outcomes.
One significant step towards this future is the Healthier SG campaign, launched by the Ministry of Health in July 2023. This campaign underscores the importance of preventive care in the communities, emphasising healthier lifestyles and overall well-being.
Pharmacists, deeply embedded in their communities, play a crucial role in educating the public on medication management, health screenings, and vaccinations. They also collaborate with family doctors, supporting patients in their journey towards healthier lives, including smoking cessation and adopting healthier behaviours.
Innovations like Pharmaceutical Care Services (PCS) exemplify how pharmacists are empowering patients. PCS, initiated in senior care centres, equips patients and caregivers with the knowledge and tools to manage medications independently. Feedback indicates increased patient confidence in medication management, aligning with the goals of Healthier SG. Expanding PCS to primary care settings like general practitioner clinics and retail pharmacies will make this service even more accessible.
The collaboration between community pharmacies and telemedicine providers represents another leap in healthcare innovation. Pharmacies partnering with telemedicine providers enable them to triage patients, conduct history-taking, and refer them to teleconsultations with doctors. This seamless integration of services ensures patients receive comprehensive care at their convenience, bridging the gap between pharmacy and telemedicine.
The role of digital technology in telemedicine is pivotal, as it enables the delivery of healthcare services remotely, bridging geographical barriers and improving access to care.
Telemedicine platforms serve as comprehensive digital ecosystems that support various aspects of virtual care. They offer features like appointment scheduling, secure video conferencing, electronic health records (EHR) integration, and billing. These platforms streamline the telemedicine workflow for both patients and healthcare providers.
Additionally, digital technology plays a crucial role in the development and use of specialised telemedicine devices, such as telemedicine carts equipped with cameras and medical instruments. These devices are used for remote examinations and diagnostics.
AI-driven algorithms and machine learning models assist healthcare providers in diagnosing conditions, predicting outcomes, and personalising treatment plans. AI can analyse large datasets to identify patterns and trends that might not be readily apparent to humans.
In partnership with the Ministry of Manpower, the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore (PSS) is contributing to healthcare workforce development. Customised training programmes are being developed to upskill healthcare associates, enabling them to play essential roles in areas like medication management and patient inquiries, particularly in caring for migrant workers.