Duke-NUS, Johnson & Johnson join hands to advance dengue innovation through a new discovery centre

• The Satellite Center at Duke-NUS marks the latest achievement for the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre’s vision for a Discovery District on its Campus. • It is also the first Asia Pacific site in Johnson & Johnson’s network of research collaborations aimed at addressing endemic and emerging pandemic threats.

Singapore has experienced significant surges in the frequency of dengue over the past two decades. The establishment of the J&J Satellite Center at Duke-NUS will facilitate antiviral drug discovery for the prevention and treatment of dengue and other flavivirus-associated diseases that are affecting communities in Southeast Asia and beyond.

Singapore, 21 June 2022 – Duke-NUS Medical School and Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the world's largest healthcare company, today jointly launched a new J&J Satellite Center for Global Health Discovery that will drive new solutions to mitigate the threat posed by flaviviruses such as dengue and Zika.

The Satellite Center at Duke-NUS is the first of the J&J Centers for Global Health Discovery to open in the Asia-Pacific region and marks the latest effort of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC) to develop a collaborative Discovery District on its campus to advance bench-to-bedside research. The Satellite Center at Duke-NUS builds on the longstanding collaboration between Duke-NUS and the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, bringing together Duke-NUS' expertise in research and translational commercialisation with J&J's deep industry experience to accelerate discovery research against flavivirus-related diseases and improve lives.

Flaviviruses, like dengue and Zika, cause significant illness and death, yet no specific antiviral therapeutics are currently available. By uniting expertise from across the scientific community, the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS will strengthen Singapore's standing as a hub of discovery research to address the unmet medical need of flaviviruses, which infect more than 400 million people each year, putting half of the global population at risk. In particular, Asia bears nearly three-quarters of the global burden. A warming planet means that billions more could be impacted in the coming decades as the animal vectors that carry flaviviruses venture beyond the tropical regions where they have traditionally thrived, spreading the diseases to new areas.

"The establishment of the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS builds upon our strong track record in flavivirus research and bench-to-bedside innovations, and will facilitate antiviral drug discovery for the prevention and treatment of flavivirus-associated diseases that are affecting communities in Southeast Asia and beyond. The collaboration is both timely, in view of the impending threat of climate change, and purposeful in realising the School's vision of transforming medicine and improving lives," said Professor Patrick Casey, Senior Vice-Dean for Research at Duke-NUS.

"This collaboration is a perfect illustration of the thriving innovation ecosystem within our AMC, where the innovation team brings scientists and industry partners together to accelerate scientific discovery to real-world patient care. With J&J's solid drug development experience and the School's research expertise, I am confident that we will break new ground in curbing the threat of these diseases," said Associate Professor Christopher Laing, Vice-Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke-NUS.

The frequency of dengue, in particular, has grown considerably over the past two decades, as evidenced by surges in places like Singapore. After experiencing its worst outbreak in history in 2020, Singapore is facing yet another major outbreak this year with more than 8,000 cases recorded in the first five months of 2022, exceeding the number of cases reported in the whole of 2021.

"Singapore is both a leading innovation and research hub and one of the epicentres of the dengue threat, making Duke-NUS a natural match for our vision to address flaviviruses by advancing innovative science," said Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, M.D., Ph.D., Global Head, Global Public Health R&D at Janssen Research & Development, LLC. "Together, we can each leverage our unique strengths to translate action in the lab into solutions at the last mile that can help better protect people against one of the world's most significant and rising health threats."

Building a thriving Discovery District on campus
The establishment of the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS is part of the continued commitment by both Duke-NUS and the School's academic medicine partner SingHealth to build a Discovery District on the AMC campus. In attracting local and overseas innovation partners to co-locate on the campus, the Discovery District fosters collaborations between the AMC and its industry partners while achieving synergy though a vibrant ecosystem of education, research, clinical expertise and commercialisation.

"Through the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS, we will zero in on antiviral profiling of novel compounds against flaviviruses in this region, and establish a new drug discovery programme by exploring conserved antiviral drug targets and developing a strategic plan for host targets," said Dr Milly Choy, Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS who will manage the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS.

Research at the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS is already underway, led by Professor Subhash Vasudevan, PhD, Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, Duke-NUS, and Olivia Goethals, PhD, Principal Scientist, Global Public Health R&D, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV.

"The mission of the Satellite Center at Duke-NUS is to develop a drug pipeline for dengue, as well as other flaviviral diseases, using state-of-the-art approaches in molecular virology, and innovative in vivo approaches to evaluate candidate drugs in model systems," said Dr Kitti Chan, Senior Research Fellow at Duke-NUS and a lead scientist at the Satellite Center.

The Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS has been at the forefront of tackling the most pressing healthcare challenges faced by Singapore and region. Most recently, the School played a critical role in driving progress to tackle dengue by working with SingHealth's Investigational Medicine Unit to conduct a Phase 2a clinical trial evaluating Janssen's antiviral compound for the prevention and treatment of dengue.

About Duke-NUS Medical School
Duke-NUS is Singapore's flagship graduate entry medical school, established in 2005 with a strategic, government-led partnership between two world-class institutions: Duke University School of Medicine and the National University of Singapore (NUS). Through an innovative curriculum, students at Duke-NUS are nurtured to become multi-faceted 'Clinicians Plus' poised to steer the healthcare and biomedical ecosystem in Singapore and beyond. A leader in ground-breaking research and translational innovation, Duke-NUS has gained international renown through its five signature research programmes and ten centres. The enduring impact of its discoveries is amplified by its successful Academic Medicine partnership with Singapore Health Services (SingHealth), Singapore's largest healthcare group. This strategic alliance has spawned 15 Academic Clinical Programmes, which harness multi-disciplinary research and education to transform medicine and improve lives.

For more information, please visit www.duke-nus.edu.sg

Published: 21 Jun 2022

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