SINGAPORE, 10 June 2022 – Leveraging the research, collaborations and commercialisation successes in contributing to Singapore’s fight against the global COVID-19 pandemic, Duke-NUS Medical School today announced that it is working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop the Asia Pathogen Genomics Initiative (APGI) to contribute to regional pandemic preparedness by improving genomic surveillance. Duke-NUS also launched a new regional centre to strengthen regional research capacity, cooperation and preparedness for future pandemic and public health threats.
Called the Centre for Outbreak Preparedness (COP), it will collaborate with key public sector partners and research institutions, as well as overseas partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization (WHO). COP will leverage Duke-NUS’ strong partnerships around the world, with particular focus on research institutes in South and Southeast Asia to increase the region’s research capacity and capabilities.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented public health crisis, the chances of future infectious disease outbreaks are now higher because of the destruction of natural habitats and climate change. Many of these threats are concentrated in South and Southeast Asia given high-levels of population density, environmental change, shifts in human-animal interaction and increasing human mobility.
The strategic location of COP in Singapore provides proximity to this global hotspot, where a key gap in pandemic preparedness is timely access to the genetic data of the pathogens that pose disease threats. COP will support the Asia Pathogen Genomics Initiative (APGI), a Duke-NUS initiative with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will expand genomic sequencing capacity across countries in South and Southeast Asia.
At the launch, a high-level panel comprising local and overseas experts discussed the areas of regional collaboration. The panel’s discussion on the need to enhance regional capacity to predict, prepare and respond to future health threats reflected COP’s key mandate, which is to improve laboratory capacity to study pathogens with pandemic potential, enhance methods for early detection, accelerate innovations in diagnostics, vaccine and therapeutics research and development, and support health system capacity for managing outbreaks.
Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat who addressed the audience at the event emphasised the importance of sustained investment in pandemic preparedness and the need to learn from each pandemic so that we are ready when the next one strikes.