Former polytechnic biomedical engineering lecturer and R&D scientist John Chee is on the cusp of global medical prominence. The Singaporean’s start-up company, Ayzer Sense, has invented a type of mattress that would solve the bedsore problem that afflicts bedridden patients, especially the elderly. Current practice to prevent the condition from arising entails moving a patient constantly but it’s tedious. If a patient receives inadequate attention, bedsores can lead to infection and even death.
Armed with the blueprint of his invention, Chee approached Trendlines Medical Singapore executives, who saw the potential in his idea. They decided to incubate the company and help him develop the product. He is now Ayzer’s chief technical officer and is collaborating with doctors from National Healthcare Group (NHG) to validate the mattress’ effectiveness and ﬁne-tune the product.
“It is a great idea and we are happy with the progress of this product,” says Eric Loh, CEO of Trendlines, an incubator that is headquartered in Israel. “The unique thing over here in Singapore is that we have a partnership with NHG, and together with the clinicians identify problems and ﬁnd solutions to address clinical needs that are not yet met adequately. We have since started another company based on our collaboration with two NHG doctors.”
Trendlines is among a growing number of incubators, accelerators and start-ups that are betting on Singapore’s growth as Asia’s top medical technology (medtech) hub.
According to an Economic Development Board report published in April last year, Singapore’s talent, infrastructure and technological advantages have led numerous Western medtech ﬁrms to establish a presence in the country. This sector’s manufacturing activity in Singapore, it adds, generated a total output of more than $11.5 billion and hired 13,900 employees in 2016.
The city-state’s status as a global ﬁnancial capital, the ease of doing business in Singapore, and its growing prowess as a technology hub, especially in artiﬁcial intelligence, are big pluses, says Abel Ang, executive director and group CEO of Advanced Medtech Group.
“We have a great environment for medtech start-ups in Singapore and this is the reason why we have more than 400 of them located here,” he adds. “We have a liberal seed funding environment, strong government support, available facilities, well-trained talent and rule of law.”
Advanced Medtech is South-east Asia’s largest medical device company that focuses on urology devices. Last September, it opened a $10 million technology centre in Tuas to incubate its portfolio ﬁrms. Adds Ang: “Medtech is a sector that is highly sensitive to innovation and technology disruption. Among the exciting trends today are robotic surgery, big data analytics of vast amounts of available clinical and treatment data, and artiﬁcial intelligence.”
The growth of medtech ﬁrms in Singapore is not slowing down, and the following are six start-ups to watch.
01 COMBATING BEDSORES
START-UP AYZER SENSE
Bedsores affect patients confined to beds on extended periods of hospitalisation. Ayzer, incubated by Trendlines Medical Singapore, is developing a smart device, SABPR, to ensure that blood circulation remains adequate across all parts of the body, to prevent bedsores from occurring. The product is a specialised mattress overlay designed to sense body pressure, map high-pressure regions, and intelligently redistribute the underlying body support to reduce pressure in these areas.
02 PAINLESS KIDNEY DIALYSIS
START-UP ADVENT ACCESS
Kidney-failure patients undergoing haemodialysis treatment have to endure numerous needle insertions every week. Each prick of the needle is painful and can wear out the targeted vein. Advent, which Advance Medtech Group is incubating, has developed av-Guardian, a tiny device that is implanted under the skin of the arm. It guides the needle to the vein that is used for haemodialysis treatment and this will eventually help patients undergo dialysis almost painlessly, just as one puts on a earring.
03 BEATING CANCER WITH ANT
START-UP NDR MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY
Cancer can be treated if detected early through biopsy. But reliable diagnosis is dependent on the accurate retrieval of tissue from a tumour that is usually small in the early stages of the disease. A successful procedure is dependent on the skill of the surgeon and can be time-consuming. Using artificial intelligence, NDR, which is incubated by NTUItive, developed the Automated Needle Targeting (ANT) System that helps a surgeon guide a needle accurately to organs such as the lungs, kidney and pancreas, as well as the spine.
04 KEEPING ASTHMA IN CHECK
START-UP AEVICE HEALTH
A biomedical spin-off from Nanyang Technological University, AEvice Health uses artificial intelligence to help asthmatic patients monitor and control their condition better. The device, Bioasthma, can be placed comfortably on children’s chests to provide objective data measurements for doctors to track their condition. This can prevent the overprescription of drugs, which could spark other medical conditions such as heart problems and depression. Bioasthma, which will be available later this year, can alert a caregiver if a child is about to suffer from an asthma attack.
05 DIALYSIS ON THE GO
START-UP AWAK TECHNOLOGIES
Those inflicted with end-stage renal disease have to spend hours, several times a week, at a dialysis centre to remove waste, salt and excess water from their bodies. This treatment also works on ensuring that there’s a safe level of certain chemicals in their blood, such as potassium, sodium and bicarbonate, and controls blood pressure. This tedious process will be disrupted when Awak, incubated by Advanced Medtech Group, rolls out Awak Peritoneal Dialysis, a device that allows treatment to be performed “on-the-go”. The product is ultra–portable, so it can be used not only at night but also during the day, as and when it is convenient for the patient.
06 LUMBAR ON TARGET
START-UP MEDULLA PRO
A lumbar puncture is a procedure that uses a thin, hollow needle to remove a small amount of fluid from the spine for lab analysis. It also may be used to administer an injection of chemotherapy or other medication into the lower spinal canal. But the procedure can be challenging for some patients, such as those who have experienced degenerative changes. Trendlines-incubated Medulla Pro is now developing a real-time ultrasound-guided imaging system that will help surgeons perform the task more accurately. The start-up is working in partnership with the National Healthcare Group, Trendlines Labs, and A*Star, the national R&D institution in Singapore.