Multidisciplinary teamwork, basic research key to continuing scientific excellence: DPM Heng

SINGAPORE – The quick roll-out of 10 Covid-19 diagnostic tests by a local medical technology hub has been credited to strong collaborations between researchers, clinicians, entrepreneurs and companies.

This teamwork, as well as tapping basic research to produce real-world impact during crises such as the pandemic, was illustrated by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (Nov 30) at the 2021 A*Star Scientific Conference, which also marked the agency’s 30th year anniversary.

He was referring to the Fortitude test kits developed by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*Star) Diagnostics Development Hub in record speed with a biotech firm in early 2020, and sent to more than 40 countries.

“Scientific breakthroughs are seldom about a lone genius having a eureka moment. Often the breakthroughs involve multiple teams working in collaboration, and building on work by previous generations of scientists,” added Mr Heng.

Beyond the pandemic, this multidisciplinary approach will be used to find solutions to the world’s toughest problems such as climate change and the ageing population.

“Innovation often happens at the intersection of disciplines,” said Mr Heng, at the Resorts World Convention Centre.

The annual conference brings together scientists and industry players from Singapore and several countries. The hybrid event has 250 physical attendees and  about 1,000 people tuning in virtually to attend lectures and discussions.

While one of science’s key aims is to meet the immediate needs of society, Mr Heng stressed that strong investment in basic research is equally important to ensure that Singapore continues delivering excellence in science and technology.

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Although basic research takes decades to bear fruit, it ensures that the wealth of knowledge in various fields continues to grow.

He cited A*Star’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology which has been at the forefront of basic research in the biomedical sciences since 1985.

“Its basic research has been useful in helping us understand how diseases work at a molecular level, informing the development of effective drugs and therapeutics.”

Under Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plan announced last year, one-third of the $25 billion budget will go towards basic research.

While research has to eventually impact society, there is still a value for scientists who want to do research for research’s sake.

“Not all scientists are interested in commercialising their research,” acknowledged Mr Heng.

He added: “Some prefer to devote themselves to basic science, and we are committed to walk this journey with them.”


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