Such a centre could lure more drug firms here
SINGAPORE is studying the feasibility of building a facility to breed large animals like pigs and monkeys, for scientists to test important advances on. The building of such a facility has been discussed for some years, but research requirements have given new urgency to the proposal. Researchers who base their studies on mice and rabbits must validate their results on larger creatures before moving on to human beings. They said such a facility would allow sharing of X-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. It would support more sophisticated research on drugs, vaccines and surgical procedures,with a suite of services available, from quarantine to monitoring and surgery. The availability of such a facility could also draw big pharmaceutical companies to test drugs here, instead of in Vietnam or Indonesia, as Singapore ramps up its 10-year-old push to make biomedical research a pillar of its economic growth.
Professor Roger Beuerman, senior scientific director of the Singapore Eye Research Institute, told The traits Times that Singapore has a lot more experience and better-qualified researchers than these ountries. “But we haven’t had the facilities that would make the big pharmaceutical companies feel omfortable coming here,” he said.
The Government has promised to set aside $3.7 billion for biomedical science research over the next five years – 12 per cent more than in the preceding five years until this year. The Straits Times understands hat up to $10 million, for a start, could be set aside to set up the animal research facility for academic and commercial research. A spokesman for the National Medical Research Council would only confirm the feasibility study, saying it was premature to go into specifics. The study is a recognition that, as Singapore moves forward in trying to discover new cures, safe research facilities that are properly equipped are needed, said the spokesman. Prof Beuerman said: “Initial data can be exciting with rodents, but these findings often do not pan out when you go up the scale to monkeys or pigs.”
Research on vaccines and diseases like glaucoma and myopia also needs to be carried out on monkeys, because their anatomy and physiology are closer to those of human beings, he explained. Pigs are used to test new drugs and medical devices, such as artificial knee joints and dental implants. The National University of Singapore (NUS) has conducted some studies using a small number of pigs. They are a good model for some heart and joint diseases, said a spokesman, adding that computer models, cell cultures and research methods that minimise the use of animals are also widely adopted at the university.
Animal research is also done at 26 facilities licensed by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), including laboratories run by health-care group SingHealth, NUS and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. The labs are inspected every year by the AVA, and they are required to meet national guidelines for the proper care and use of animals.
The SingHealth Experimental Medicine Centre is a key publicly run source for large animals bred for research here, said its spokesman. A few private companies here, like Maccine and PWG Genetics, also supply such animals. While the AVA would not reveal the number of large animals used in research here, it said about 350 pigs and primates were imported last year for research purposes.
SingHealth Experimental Medicine Centre director Bryan Ogden said a centralized national animal research facility will support efforts to develop Singapore as a regional leader in translating biomedical science research from bench to bedside, and advancing the care of patients. While doctors use the animals to hone their skills in treating patients, scientists use them for research in areas like dentistry, ophthalmology and oncology. He said: “This has led to advances in care for patients who have bone defects from dental surgery, patients suffering from blinding eye diseases and patients with liver cancer, to name a few.”
Details on the proposal
- WHAT: A centralised facility to breed and test large animals such as pigs and monkeys for research in new drugs, vaccines and medical procedures.
- WHY: Researchers increasingly need to validate results on larger animals before moving on to human beings. About 350 pigs and non-human primates were imported for research last year.
- HOW: Allows for the sharing of X-ray and MRI equipment, conforms to national guidelines on proper care and use of laboratory animals.
- POSSIBLE BENEFITS: Advances in care for people with bone defects from dental surgery, blinding eye diseases and liver cancer. Would boost the biomedical sciences sector, fuelling economic growth.