Faces of A*STAR

 

Scholarship propels her career beyond the lab to biotech business development

Scholarship propels her career beyond the lab to biotech business development Dr Ang Hwee ChingDr Ang Hwee Ching is Deputy CEO of A*STAR’s Experimental Drug Development Centre (EDDC).

Together with the leadership team, she is working to translate science into potential medicines, by developing and steering drug R&D programmes towards successful proof-of-concept clinical trials and partnerships with pharma and biotech companies. The ultimate goal is to forge the right partnerships to develop innovative drugs from Singapore to help patients globally.

Translating research into real solutions for the market

At EDDC, Singapore’s national platform for drug discovery and development, Hwee Ching works on partnerships, licences, and spin-offs for ground-breaking and life-altering drugs. These include molecules that can degrade disease-causing proteins, and, more recently, molecules for a potentially best-in-class Covid-19 oral antiviral therapy.

Scholarship propels her career beyond the lab to biotech business developmentAt EDDC, Hwee Ching and team work to find the next life-saving treatments

“It’s such a feat that we will all remember it for the rest of our lives,” says Hwee Ching about EDDC’s potential Covid-19 therapy. “Because it’s not every day when you can make something and license it out in such a short time. Now, we are looking forward to our partner putting it into clinical trials!”

From consultant to researcher

Hwee Ching’s career in biotech began, surprisingly, with a non-research role.

As a student, Hwee Ching won a Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) scholarship to do a double bachelor’s degree programme in chemical engineering and finance. Piqued by her summer internship with the EDB, she was able to get support for a master’s degree in biotechnology, and then started her first job at EDB, helping biotech companies set up R&D operations in Singapore. Her role had elements of consultancy and grant administration – but no hands-on research.

Then-chairman of EDB Mr Philip Yeo was on a mission to develop the biomedical sciences sector in Singapore, and recognised the importance of PhD training for this knowledge-intensive area. He recommended Hwee Ching to the A*STAR scholarship, which sought to develop critical talent throughout the biomedical ecosystem – from research labs to biotech corporate offices, patent firms, tech transfer offices, venture capital funds (VCs) and more.

Hwee Ching knew then that the A*STAR scholarship would equip her to play a role in shaping the biomed industry – not just in Singapore, but throughout the world.

The A*STAR scholarship took Hwee Ching to the University of Cambridge, where she worked with Prof Sir Alan Fersht, a pioneer in protein science, at the MRC Centre for Protein Engineering.

It was a huge departure from her comfort zone. She recalls, “My PhD was very tough with the transition from administrative work to fully lab-based research.”

But she was motivated to be working with the best and brightest in the world. “The next Nobel Laureate was just cycling down the street!” she laughs.

“I had the freedom to explore my interest in biotech and learn about drug discovery and development. The skills, friendship and experience I got were important not just for my career, but for my whole life.”

Broadening expertise, experience and networks

Scholarship propels her career beyond the lab to biotech business developmentHwee Ching is now making waves in a research-intensive environment

Hwee Ching embarked on her post-doctoral career at A*STAR. In the subsequent years, she became a Research Fellow at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB), and then Senior Manager of Business Development & Project Management at the Experimental Therapeutics Centre, while serving as secretariat for A*STAR’s Innovation and Enterprise committee.

“The A*STAR scholarship gave me many opportunities as well as the flexibility to rotate around different research institutes, which later opened the door for me to work at renowned pharma companies such as Eli Lilly and Bayer.”

Unlocking more exciting outcomes

After a stint at the NTU tech transfer office, NTUitive, Hwee Ching is coming full circle at A*STAR in the business of working with pharma, biotechs and VCs to translate science from lab to market. Reflecting on how far her career has come, Hwee Ching says that A*STAR is an amazing launchpad for young scientists and new scholars.

“It’s more than a scholarship,” she explains. “What we have here is a very powerful network of scientists, clinicians, clinician-scientists, in different places in academia, across disciplines, in industry and in government. It’s a powerful community where we can exchange knowledge and achieve meaningful outcomes.”