Chief Executive Officer of MiRXES, Dr. Zhou Lihan
Professor Yeoh Khay Guan
Ladies and gentlemen
I am pleased to join you this morning for the official opening of the MiRXES Laboratories and the MOU signing ceremony for Project CADENCE, which stands for CAncer Detected Early caN be CurEd.
2. Before I talk about the project, let me say something about MiRXES and its CEO and founder, Dr Zhou Lihan.
3. Lihan moved to Singapore from China in 1998, when he was 15 years old, to study in our secondary school under a scholarship. So he grew up under Singapore’s education system, , graduated from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and then became a Singapore citizen.
4. He went on to do a Ph.D. at NUS, which was when he did research work that laid the foundation of MiRXES. During his Ph.D. training, Lihan and his co-worker, Ruiyang, were constantly challenged by their supervising professor, Professor Too Heng-Phon, a senior faculty member of NUS, to conduct research that has real-world impact.
5. That was when the pair worked on the microRNA or miRNA technology, a highly sensitive technology that detects the smallest genetic material found in living organisms.
6. That technology found application in clinics, for the early detection of cancers. It works on the basis that diseased cells release different profiles of miRNA compared to normal cells. So, by detecting these diseased miRNA profiles, we can pinpoint diseases even before symptoms start to show.
7. But it is challenging to capture and measure miRNAs which are in our blood, as they are very tiny. MiRXES has resolved this by developing a “high-resolution camera” that can amplify the miRNAs and determine its exact quantity even within a small blood sample. This in turn, helps physicians and patients identify early-stage diseases like cancer. With this breakthrough, the technology then found application in clinics for early detection of cancers.
8. And in 2014, MiRXES was spun off from A*STAR into a commercial start up, with three founders, operating out of a rental lab in Biopolis.
9. Today, MiRXES has grown into a 350-strong global team, with state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing facilities around the world – in Singapore, USA, China and Japan. They have since developed a test kit for the early detection of gastric cancer, and are working on detection of other forms of cancers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are very grateful that MiRXES co-developed the Fortitude, an RT-PCR test to help in the global fight against COVID-19.
10. A success story like MiRXES is the result of the combination of a few ingredients. First, a national strategy to invest and develop talent, mostly of our own people and then complement this by bringing bright students from a very young age to Singapore and nurture them withinour education system. Many, like Lihan, become citizens and contribute to our nation and society.
11. Second, an empowering research, innovation and enterprise ecosystem, comprising A*STAR, the National Research Foundation, our medical schools and hospitals, experienced mentors, clinicians, corporate research labs and researchers, a vibrant start up scene backed up venture capitalists and investors, etc, that enable start-ups like MiRXES to sprout and thrive.
12. Third, the curiosity, enterprise and never-say-die attitude of the founding team of MiRXES, who leverage the support of our education and research ecosystem to fulfill their dreams and potential, and now giving back to society.
13. MiRXES is now partnering Singapore’s public healthcare institutions and embarking on Project CADENCE. It is an important research collaboration championed by Singapore clinician-scientists to achieve early detection of nine cancers of high incidence and high mortality. These include breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or prostate cancer in one single blood test.
14. Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. Each year, approximately 400,000 children develop cancer.
15. In Singapore, the age standardised incidence rate of cancer has increased over the past half a century from around 190 to 235 per 100,000 population.
16. We have reduced some types of cancers, for example lung cancer as smoking incidence falls. But other types of cancer continue to creep upwards in tandem with changes in lifestyle and are expected to rise further with Singapore’s ageing population.
17. Despite this, the Singapore population is under-screening ourselves for cancer. Based on the National Population Health Survey, from 2019 to 2020, screening rates for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer were relatively stagnant with only about 50% of Singaporeans attending screening.
18. We will try to correct this with Project CADENCE. Early detection makes a huge difference to the health of all patients. The technology enables our healthcare system to shift decisively from curative care to preventive care in hospitals and the community.
19. Hence Project CADENCE is well-aligned with Healthier SG. We can potentially deploy such early detection methods in our communities. MiRXES’s research laboratory (MiRXES Lab) will provide the R&D capabilities to support this project, while MiRXES’ new state-of-the-art clinical diagnostic laboratory (M Diagnostics) will provide the translational capabilities to roll out novel testing solutions to the population.
20. When we embarked on Healthier SG, we positioned it as shifting from acute care to preventive care. This is really able to happen in a big way because of technological advancements. It is not just a slogan that we are moving from hospitals to the community, or from curative to preventive care. We are creating an entire new system and receptacle for technological advancements for our population. You can imagine in the future, genome sequencing will allow us to identify segments of society who may be slightly more susceptible to certain diseases, and very early interventions can take place. Simple interventions – exercise, diet – can be done because we can identify early who is more susceptible to certain chronic illnesses.
21. We are required today to draw blood to measure our lipids and blood sugar. Hopefully not too long in the future, we can measure these through wearables. When your draw blood, it is to detect serious diseases like cancer early. This changes the game entirely but it would not have maximum potential unless we change the way healthcare is delivered, through Healthier SG. So I put to you that Healthier SG is not just a slogan, or a small shift in policy. It is an entire shift in the system of healthcare in order to be a major receptacle for technological advancements.
22. Congratulations to MiRXES on the official opening of your laboratories and the development of Project CADENCE. I also thank the public health institutions and research institutions for your involvement and contribution and being part of this ecosystem that will no doubt nurture more talent like Lihan and companies like MiRXES.
23. MiRXES is almost a fairy tale story, of research and innovation from bench to bedside. But unlike fairy tales, there is no automatic happily ever after, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears and the future is still full of challenges, promises and mission fulfilment.
24. Now, you will thrive not just because of the ecosystem, but also a policy fairy godmother in Healthier SG, which will make improving the health of our population through cost-effective early detection approaches, front and center of our collective healthcare mission.
25. Thank you.