Speech by Minister For Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, at the A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony

Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman, A*STAR,
Distinguished guests,
Scholars and parents,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon

I am delighted to join you at this year’s A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony. My heartiest congratulations to all the scholarship recipients here today.


R&D and investment in Singapore talent – key strategies for Singapore’s future

R&D is a key strategy for Singapore’s future in building a knowledge-driven economy. Last year, the government announced the S$19 billion Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 (RIE2020) plan to support research, innovation and enterprise activities for the next five years. We are focusing our investments on key areas where there are national needs, economic opportunities as well as areas in which we have developed capabilities. Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Health and Biomedical Sciences, Urban Solutions and Sustainability, and Services and Digital Economy are the four domains that have been prioritised under RIE2020.

The future of Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering lies in the integration of various technology components into a highly-efficient manufacturing process. This will allow us to produce differentiated products and services that will meet the world demand, and will have an impact across industries. For example, Rolls-Royce and A*STAR signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January this year to set up collaborative technology centres focused on Future of Manufacturing capabilities, including advanced technologies and processes for manufacturing, assembly and maintenance, repair and overhaul. One of the aims of this initiative is for local enterprises to be part of this advanced manufacturing community.

Another domain of focus is Health and Biomedical Sciences, which hopes to deliver better health outcomes for Singaporeans. Driven by an ageing population as well as lifestyle factors, healthcare demand is expected to grow over time. Beyond expanding capacity to meet this demand, we want to develop the capability to prevent diseases, detect them early or stem the progress of illness. A*STAR plays a crucial role in this area by enabling the seamless flow of discovery to development and commercialisation. An example of this is in the creation of an integrated drug development system within A*STAR’s Experimental Therapeutics Centre (ETC) and the Drug Discovery and Development Unit (D3) that takes A*STAR’s and Duke-NUS’ cancer drug candidate through to clinical trials in humans. The drug candidate (ETC-159) targets a range of cancers including colorectal, ovarian and pancreatic cancers. This was made possible by close collaborations between A*STAR, Duke-NUS Medical School, public sector institutions and private research organisations.

This year, A*STAR also announced the discovery of a new cancer drug candidate, ETC-206, which targets blood cancers, creating another key milestone in Singapore’s drug innovation story. The drug candidate has been undergoing its first phase of clinical trials in healthy volunteers and has been planned for a second trial on later-stage leukaemia patients in August this year. This demonstrates Singapore’s growing drug innovation capabilities – discovering and developing drugs with the potential to improve or save lives.

Early detection and diagnosis are also important in keeping Singaporeans healthy and this can be enhanced by the use of technologies. To this end, A*STAR has played a key role in bringing together engineering and biotech for advancements in the field of Diagnostics. The Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub led by A*STAR, for example, transforms innovations into clinically-validated diagnostic devices that are ready for market adoption. The Hub focuses on diagnostic innovations in oncology, and infectious and cardiovascular diseases. Recently, the Hub started a collaboration with bioMérieux, a world leader in the field of in-vitro diagnostics, to develop diagnostic tests that will allow for a quicker and more accurate diagnosis of three pathogens which cause Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya.

A*STAR scholars contribute to building a collaborative and innovative workforce that drives innovation in industry

Behind all the R&D investments, efforts and success stories, the most critical element is the people and talent. It is therefore important that we continue to build a solid local talent base to drive science and innovation in Singapore to ensure our continued success.

The A*STAR scholarship is an example of the continuous effort in developing a steady pipeline of highly skilled scientific talent by providing students the opportunity to pursue scientific training at local and international universities. Since the inception of the A*STAR scholarship programme in 2001, over 700 A*STAR scholars have completed their PhD or post-doctoral education and are contributing to Singapore’s R&D ecosystem in various ways.

I am pleased that many A*STAR scholars have made a positive impact on the Singapore economy and society. An example is Dr Lim Xinhong, who first took up an A*STAR scholarship in 2001. He is now a principal investigator at A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB). In 2016, he was awarded the Young Scientist Award for his research in the area of skin stem cells. His work has contributed to the understanding and discovery of the molecular mechanisms that govern skin stem cells in development, maintenance and repair.

Dr Su Xinyi from A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), who was one of the early recipients of the scholarship, is now in cutting-edge eye research. At 17, she already set her sights on being a clinician-scientist, in pursuit of scientific research and to practice medicine. Eye conditions including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy affect countless people’s vision today. As a Clinical Research Fellow in the A*STAR research programme with the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) and an Ophthalmology resident at the National University Health System (NUHS), finding a solution for these conditions is at the heart of her study.

Dr Kedar Hippalgaonkar, an A*STAR scholarship recipient for his undergraduate and PhD degrees in 2002 and 2006 respectively, is a scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). He and his international team have recently discovered a metal called vanadium dioxide which conducts electricity without conducting heat. This property makes it the first material in the world to defy a 164-year-old law of physics. This discovery will lead to endless possibilities of real-world applications of the metal – materials for a future of cars or electronic devices that would never heat up after prolonged usage.

I hope that in the coming years we will see more A*STAR scholars’ contributing and making a positive impact to Singapore’s economy, healthcare sector and our society.


Like these exceptional individuals, the next generation of scholars has important roles to play. I encourage you to make the most of the opportunities that are provided by the A*STAR scholarships to grow and innovate on your journey ahead. Congratulations once again.