In Conversation with Dr Sidney Yee, the CEO of Diagnostics Development Hub

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Dr Sidney Yee is a trained chemist and research scholar and is currently the CEO for the Diagnostics Development Hub and Executive Vice President at ETPL. She works with her team to productise innovative diagnostic technologies at DxD Hub and leads the Incubation and Start-up Management team at ETPL to advise and support startup activities.

In an email interview with Biotechin.Asia, she tells us about the inaugural Diagnostics Summit that happened in Singapore and the launch of the open innovation lab A*startCentral. 

Dr Sidney Yee, CEO for the Diagnostics Development Hub and Executive Vice President at ETPL
Dr Sidney Yee, CEO for the Diagnostics Development Hub and Executive Vice President at ETPL Picture Credit: Laxmi Iyer, Biotechin.Asia

Hello Dr Sidney! Congratulations on successfully conducting the inaugural Diagnostics summit in Oct 2016. Can you tell us briefly, the purpose of this summit? Is it because Asia, particularly Singapore is becoming a diagnostics hub?

The Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub is proud to co-organise the inaugural Diagnostics Summit in Singapore. It is a global diagnostics conference series which brings together global key opinion leaders in diagnostics to generate discussions and develop collaborations which will help to address the unmet clinical needs in this rapidly expanding field.

The Summit focuses on the forefront of cutting-edge technologies to help diagnose diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases more efficiently.  The inaugural Summit focuses on circulatory biomarkers and their impact to healthcare by enabling liquid biopsy, and the trend-setting impact of liquid biopsy on companion diagnostics.

Diagnostics represents the highest revenue segment of the medical devices market, and are much needed medical decision-making tools for timely-treatment and better patient management. Asia is fast catching up with North America as the biggest market, and is the fastest growing global diagnostics market. Singapore is well-positioned as a global diagnostics hub, to tap on the growing market in Asia, and it serves as a gateway to Asia’s thriving Medtech sector.

DxD Hub aims to position Singapore as an international nucleus for the development of diagnostic solutions, especially for diseases of impact to Asian population. This Summit is an excellent platform to promote global public-private partnerships through public institutions and platforms such as DxD Hub, to deliver impactful healthcare solutions and economic outcomes for Singapore.

Recently, Singapore’s first open lab with life science facilities, A*StartCentral at JTC LaunchPad @ one-north was launched. What does it aim to achieve?

A*StartCentral is a first-of-its-kind open innovation platform which aims to accelerate the growth of the Medtech and Lifesciences start-up ecosystem, by building an open innovation community, and supporting budding researcher-entrepreneurs through its suite of services in terms of facilities, business development and access to mentors and investors. The concept of open innovation lies in lowering the barrier for the public and private sectors to collaborate.

Young start-ups especially those in the biotechnology space start on a journey with high failure risk, high capital needs, and a long timeframe. A*StartCentral aims to help early-stage start-ups overcome these challenges and short-cut their entrepreneurial process. It will serve as a soft landing ground to inspire, train and support researcher-entrepreneurs so that they can build successful and sustainable businesses.

The concept of A*StartCentral goes beyond incubating start-ups. It is actually incubating start-up talent. We believe that entrepreneurship is a journey starting from the bench. Although we provide the critical hardware for Medtech and Lifesciences companies, what differentiates us is our heartware. Our heartware is in grooming and mentoring the entrepreneurial talents. The objective is in expanding the mind-set and equipping the talents with tools along the start-up journey. The start-up journey starts from outreach to the researcher community to seed innovative thinking. The starting up phase is facilitated by workshops and domain-specific business clinics.

Start-up members are supported by our community of mentors and network of industry partners. The refinement of start-up members’ business through external validation such as industry partnership and strategic investments will directly increase the chances of success.

In countries like USA, there are many open innovation labs where individual scientists who want to develop their ideas and get to their Proof of Concept quickly can come and work in these labs. Is this a similar concept?

These innovation labs are mostly incubators that are real estate players whereby their return on investments are sought through either rental or equity in the start-ups. These innovation labs work in countries where there was already critical mass. We first need to build that critical mass, especially in the area of Medtech and Biotech. Therefore A*StartCentral takes the agnostic or open platform approach to develop the critical mass based on quality of the start-up teams, technology and business aspirations, rather than the origination of the technology or intellectual property.

What is the procedure for using a lab space like the A*StartCentral ? 

As stated above, A*StartCentral’s offerings extend beyond providing a lab space, but a suite of services to members in terms of business development, access to network of ancillary service providers and also lab equipments and services for prototype testing and development. All members are also signed up to A*STAR’s Resource Support Centre, which enables start-ups to source and procure consumables and state-of-the-art instrumentation services, almost on a real-time basis. Time and focus are always of the essence to start-ups. With A*StartCentral, start-up members can dive directly into time-sensitive and critical company-related work without distraction.

Individuals or start-ups who are interested in being a member can contact us at ask_asc@etpl.sg

How has the response been to A*StartCentral? 

Phenomenal. We had only officially launched in Sept 2016, and we are already receiving applications on a monthly basis. Although we are agnostic, so as to develop critical mass of talents in the Medtech and Biotech space, we do have a system to evaluate and screen these applications.

Image Credit: A*StartCentral
Image Credit: A*StartCentral

A word of advise for the young scientists of today? 

Be curious, have much humility.

Image Credit: A*StartCentral
Image Credit: A*StartCentral