A*STAR partners local and international institutes of higher learning, small and medium enterprises, and large corporations to leverage on each other’s strengths, develop research expertise and infrastructure, as well as to develop talent. The end-goal is to achieve a sticky ecosystem comprising of private companies, complemented by capabilities in the public sector.
The Singapore-based biotechnology company and A*STAR spin-off is developing sustainable methods to produce chemicals for applications in food and consumer care. Fermatics, together with research collaboration partner Biotransformation Innovation Platform, has developed a portfolio of IP-protected microbial strains that are capable of producing good yields of high-quality compounds with inexpensive feedstock such as glucose or glycerol. This has been achieved through microbial engineering and fermentation, the replacement of chemical manufacturing processes as well as extractions from natural resources.
New and more cost-effective ways to scale up the production of alternative food protein, including cultured meat, are being explored as part of a partnership between the University of Bath in the United Kingdom and A*STAR. The Memorandum of Understanding provides a unique opportunity to bring together the institutions’ strengths in biotechnology research to build world-leading capabilities in cultured meat bioprocessing design and production. The effort aims to address the global challenges of food security while reducing the environmental and ethical footprint of conventional farming and meat production.
On 13 September 2019, A*STAR inked an MOU with Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to explore suitable areas for joint research development in Food Science and Processing. There are ongoing discussions with WUR to set up a joint lab that will be housed in A*STAR’s new food institute, Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI). Through this collaboration, there will be expertise and knowledge exchange around sustainable ingredient production and the subsequent structuring of alternative protein foods.
A*STAR and CSIRO launched the 1st Singapore-Australia Bilateral Programme on “Innovations in Food for Precision Health” in October 2019 to bring together key research organisations in both countries to target science and innovation activities that empower consumers to make healthier and more effective food, diet and lifestyle choices. Both agencies provided matched funding for a year to support joint research projects that addressed the following themes:
Through tailored bootcamps and workshops, scientists from both countries were able to cross-pollinate ideas, connect to partners and investors, learn from mentors, and further develop pathways to impact.
Under the Singapore-New Zealand Enhanced Partnership, A*STAR and MBIE embarked on a 3-year bilateral grant call on Future Foods, which focused on plant-based alternative proteins, prioritising algae (including seaweed) and microbial proteins. The bilateral exchange aimed to create new and world-leading knowledge in Future Foods and develop scientific strengths and capabilities within both countries through research collaboration and the exchange of Science & Technology personnel.
Functioning as a virtual but integrated academic network, EpiGen Consortium’s work ranges from public policy, advocacy and educational interventions, to fundamental epigenetics and mathematical biology. Established in 2006, it comprises five partner institutions in three countries, including A*STAR. EpiGen undertakes clinical trials, such as the ongoing “Nutritional Intervention Preconception and during pregnancy to maintain healthy glucose metabolism and offspring health” (NiPPeR). To date, NiPPeR is the largest nutritional intervention study that starts before conception and continues through pregnancy. It aims to improve glucose metabolism before and during pregnancy as well as body composition in infants. Through NiPPeR, a range of maternal nutritional assessments, potential epigenetic mechanisms, pregnancy outcomes, infant growth and aspects of offspring’s respiratory and/or allergic health could be discovered.
A tiny molecule has given the search for the fountain of youth a scientific twist. Nicotinamide (NAM), a form of vitamin B3, has been found to reduce sallowness and wrinkles, and more recently prevent some skin cancers. In the research led by Dr Sophie Bellanger, Principal Investigator at the Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS) at A*STAR, in partnership with Procter & Gamble, the team discovered the key role of NAM in helping stem cells in the skin retain their unique properties. As a start, NAM could be used for preventing stem cell loss to increase the success rate of growing skin grafts for severe burn patients.
Using the sugar-based micro-emulsion technology of A*STAR’s Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, Hyphens Pharma has formulated a new steroid cream that is currently awaiting regulatory approval in Singapore and Indonesia. The company, which operates in five countries in the region, has also previously co-developed products with A*STAR, including a moisturiser for eczema suffers called Ceradan® Advanced Moisturising Skin Barrier Cream, launched in Singapore and Malaysia in July 2019. There are plans to launch in other countries in the region.
A new drug currently being developed by local biotech company Aslan Pharmaceuticals may be able to provide complete relief to sufferers of atopic dermatitis (AD), also known as eczema. The drug, ASLAN004, is an antibody that binds to part of the IL-13 receptor and blocks the signalling of two small proteins, IL-4 and IL-13, which are key triggers of symptoms of eczema such as redness and itching of the skin. It is currently in a phase 1B clinical trial led by Prof Steven Thng, Chief Dermatologist of the Skin Research Institute of Singapore. The trial will evaluate three doses of the drug on moderate to severe eczema patients and results are expected in the second half of 2020. The phase 1A study, on healthy volunteers, had found that the drug was well tolerated at all doses and there were no adverse events that led to discontinuations.