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A*STAR Release: Local Medtech Industry Gets Talent Boost to Develop Innovative Devices to Meet Asia's Growing Healthcare Needs

12/8/2011 10:10:07 AM

December 08, 2011 -- 1. The Singapore-Stanford Biodesign (SSB) Programme Office announced last night the graduation of its inaugural batch of SSB Fellows[1]. The four SSB Fellow Graduates are equipped with innovation and entrepreneurship skills to invent, develop and commercialise innovative medical devices to address present day healthcare needs. The event also unveiled the second batch of new Fellows[2] awarded the 2012 SSB Fellowship. These four recipients will begin the first six-month curriculum of their one-year fellowship programme at Stanford University in Jan next year.

2. Jointly launched by the Agency of Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Stanford University last year[3], the SSB programme seeks to groom the next generation of Asian leaders in medical device innovation. Modelled after the Stanford Biodesign programme, Fellows work in multi-disciplinary teams (spanning fields ranging from medicine and engineering to business) to develop viable solutions for identified healthcare needs of Asia. This multidisciplinary approach that trains Fellows in the entire value chain of medical device innovation is in line with A*STAR’s push to develop multi-disciplinary integrated research efforts to meet healthcare demands of the future.

3. Today, the worldwide medtech industry accounts for approximately US$336 billion in annual revenues. The sector is characterised by rapid growth rates, high profit margins, innovative technology, quality engineering and manufacturing capabilities, as well as a vibrant R&D ecosystem. Leveraging on Singapore’s existing strengths in engineering, manufacturing and biomedical research, the local medtech industry has witnessed fast growth over the years. The manpower base in the sector has doubled from about 4,000 in 2000 to more than 8,000 in 2010. Its manufacturing output has also risen from $1.5 billion in 2000 to $3.6 billion in 2010. Singapore currently houses 25 medtech companies, and is also a fast-growing medtech innovation hub with more than 30 medtech companies conducting R&D[4].

4. “The SSB Programme underscores Singapore’s commitment to develop a pool of multi-disciplinary talent that understands Asian clinical needs and the medtech innovation process. Companies looking to develop innovative healthcare solutions for the rapidly-growing Asian markets can do so in Singapore by leveraging programmes such as the SSB” said Mr. Yeoh Keat Chuan, Assistant Managing Director of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

5. The clinical theme for the inaugural batch of SSB Fellows was on ophthalmology. To identify real-world clinical needs, Fellows shadowed eye clinicians and healthcare providers during their stints in both Stanford and the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC). They systematically filtered from over 400 clinical needs associated with eye problems, down to the top two needs.

6. The first clinical need was for a more cost-effective surgical procedure for cataract treatment. This is particularly critical in developing countries where many people suffer from cataract blindness due to poor access to quality eye care or the inability to afford expensive operation. Though effective, the current method[5] is very costly. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 18 million people are blind from cataracts, and this represents almost half of all causes of blindness. The new medical device developed by the Fellows eliminates the need for an expensive ultrasonic source that is used in the current method, thereby, potentially reducing the cost by more than half[6].

7. The second clinical need for a more reliable Visual Field Test was identified after the Fellows noticed how difficult it is for glaucoma patients to take the current gold-standard test, which is only about 60% reliable[7]. The current test requires patients to keep their eyes fixated on a particular spot as well as accurate hand-eye coordination, which is particularly difficult for elderly patients, who make up a significant proportion of all glaucoma patients. Through integration of advanced computational tools and existing technologies in high-performance image processing and optical engineering, the Fellows developed an innovative concept that uses a gaze-tracking technology, which eliminates the tedious hand-eye coordination and the need for patients to keep their eyes fixated throughout the test. This makes the Visual Field test more patient-friendly and also potentially increases the reliability to more than 90%. The SSB Fellows are working with collaborators to develop both projects to the proof-of-concept stage.

8. Said Prof Low Teck Seng, Managing Director of A*STAR, “This pioneer batch of SSB Fellows showcase both the clinical and technical talent that Singapore will invest, in generating the human capital for the MedTech industry in Singapore. I am confident that these Fellows will contribute significantly to the growth of the MedTech ecosystem for Singapore.”

9. Said Founder and Director of the Stanford Biodesign Programme, Prof Paul Yock, who is also a notable medtech innovator himself, “We are very impressed by the consistently high calibre SSB Fellows of the first and second batch. I believe that this partnership to foster medtech innovations in Singapore and Silicon Valley will continue to be mutually beneficial for both U.S. and Singapore as global demands for better healthcare products shift to Asia.”

10. As part of a wider effort to raise the profile of the MedTech industry here, A*STAR partnered National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to organise the first joint postgraduate SSB Innovation Class in Singapore in August this year. Students from both universities were taught by industry professionals and faculty staff, and mentored by the inaugural batch of SSB Fellows to develop medical devices from concept to commercialisation. The best team from the class presented their prototype and business strategy at the SSB Graduation ceremony last night. Using real-time ultrasound imaging, the team conceived a medical device that will enhance the safety of vitrectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the vitreous humor, which is the clear internal jelly of the eye.

About SSB Fellowship

11. The year-long SSB fellowship consists of a six months immersion in the Biodesign programme at Stanford University, where Fellows get to attend classes and bootcamps conducted by Silicon Valley industry veterans and entrepreneurs in the Medical Technology (MedTech) industry. They will be trained in the Biodesign Process starting from identifying unmet clinical needs to development of medical device prototypes and formulating business proposals. The Fellows will then spend the remaining six months of practical team-based learning in Singapore, obtaining first-hand experience in determining clinical needs and applying the Biodesign process to develop medical device innovations with specific Asian relevance and applications.



Annex A – About the 2011 and 2012 SSB Fellowship awardees

Annex B – Photos of the inaugural SSB Fellows in the new Prototyping Design Studio

Annex C – About the SSB Innovation Class

For media queries and clarifications, please contact:

Dr. Sarah Chang KC

Corporate Communications

Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Tel: (65) 6826 6442


About Singapore-Stanford Biodesign Program

The Singapore-Stanford Biodesign (SSB) Program is a joint partnership between theAgency for Science, Technology & Research (A*STAR), the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Stanford University. Its goal is to nurture and train the next generation of Asian medical device innovators in Singapore for the global industry. For more information on SSB, please visit

About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation-driven Singapore. A*STAR oversees 14 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and six consortia & centres, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis as well as their immediate vicinity.

A*STAR supports Singapore's key economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. It also supports extramural research in the universities, and with other local and international partners.

For more information about A*STAR, please visit

About Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB)

The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is the lead government agency for planning and executing strategies to enhance Singapore’s position as a global business centre. EDB dreams, designs and delivers solutions that create value for investors and companies in Singapore. Our mission is to create for Singapore, sustainable economic growth with vibrant business and good job opportunities. EDB’s ‘Home’ strategy articulates how we are positioning Singapore for the future. It is about extending Singapore's value proposition to businesses not just to help them improve their bottom line, but also to help them grow their top line through establishing and deepening strategic activities in Singapore to drive their business, innovation and talent objectives in Asia and globally.

For more information, please visit

About Stanford University Medical Centre

The Stanford University School of Medicine consistently ranks among the nation’s top 10 medical schools, integrating research, medical education, patient care and community service. For more news about the school, please visit

The medical school is part of Stanford Medicine, which includes Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. For information about all three, please visit

[1] For more information on the inaugural batch of SSB Fellows, please refer to Annex A and the media release on 10 Dec 2010 at

[2] More information on the four new SSB Fellows for 2012 is at Annex A

[3] For more information on the launch of the Singapore-Stanford Biodesign programme, please refer to the media release on 29 Jan 2010 at

[4] Speech by Mr Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, at the Biomedical Engineering Society (Singapore) 20th Anniversary dinner

[5]Phacoemulsification refers to modern cataract surgery in which the eye's internal lens is emulsified with an ultrasonic handpiece and aspirated from the eye. Depending on which country the patient is receiving the treatment, cost of phocoemulsification surgery can range from USD$700-1500 in China to USD$2500 in the U.S.

[6]The current cost for the machine used in phacoemulsification surgery can costs up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

[7] Due to the heavy reliance on patient’s cooperation, less than 60% of the patients are able to cope withthe current visual field test. The inherent sources of variability in the current test drastically reduce the reliability of the test results.

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