Made In Singapore: Local Science And Tech Companies To Watch
When we talk about Singaporean brands and companies, the first things that comes to mind would probablybe prominent local businesses like Shopee, DBS, and Song Fa Bak Kut Teh, all of which fall in more commercial sectors.
For a country as small as Singapore, it’s impressive to see local companies like these grow to become global businesses. But commercial brands aren’t the only ones making waves internationally. In fact, many of our local science and tech companies situated in Singapore Science Park have made great breakthroughs in more niche sectors and industries.
Here, we speak with Toh Kai Yee, Head of Laboratory Operations and Research at AMILI, a precision gut microbiome company located at The Rutherford, and Jasmin Wong, Director and CEO of Dialyss, a sorbent dialysis technology company located at The Galen, to find out more about the breakthroughs that they’ve attained, and the importance of the work that they do.
Toh Kai Yee,
Head of Laboratory Operations and Research at AMILI.
Image courtesy of AMILI.
Kai Yee (seated, second from left) and a part of
AMILI's Laboratory and Research team pictured inside
AMILI's laboratory in Singapore.
Image Courtesy of AMILI.
After stool samples have been sent in by volunteer donors,
laboratory technicians will extract them for preparation and processing.
Image courtesy of AMILI.
When not in use, gut microbiome samples are stored at -80°C.
Image courtesy of AMILI.
Toh Kai Yee, Head of Laboratory Operations and Research at AMILI
Did you know that AMILI, a Singapore-based precision gut microbiome company at The Rutherford at Singapore Science Park, houses Southeast Asia’s first and only gut microbiome bank for research and clinical use.
To break this down, gut microbiomes, which are found in human stools, consist of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the digestive tract, and play a key role in almost every aspect of human health, like brain, gut, and cardiovascular health, as well as metabolism and immunity.
In their gut microbiome bank, AMILI gathers gut microbiome samples from volunteer donors to perform research and transplants, as well as contribute to the world!s largest multi-ethnic Asian gut microbiome database.
1. What does a typical day at work look like for you?
In a nutshell, I oversee AMILI’s gut microbiome transplant programme. I work with doctors to ensure donors are healthy, and process the gut microbiome samples to be used in transplants by clinicians both locally and regionally. I also develop protocols and workflows with my colleagues to study the 100 trillion microbes in our gut, and how these microbes impact human health. I also study the reverse of this, i.e. how diet and lifestyle affect our gut microbes.
2. Tell us more about AMILI’s gut microbiome transplant bank.
Our gut microbiome transplant bank was set up in 2019, and is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. Since then, we’ve provided transplant preparations to a number of hospitals and clinics in the region to treat a variety of diseases and infections like Clostridioides Difficile Infection (CDI), a type of bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhoea and potentially life-threatening complications.
Outside of that, researchers globally are exploring transplants for a variety of other indications such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Autism. We are also hopeful that providing easy and reliable access to high-quality microbiome transplant preparations via the AMILI bank will encourage the uptake of gut microbiome transplants in Singapore and the region.
An estimated 48,000 transplants are performed annually in the USA, with success rates of over 85%. Singapore!s first transplant was performed in 2014 by our co-founder, Dr David Ong, but the treatment has yet to become mainstream here.
3. How does the process of gut microdome donaton differ from blood donation?
The process actually looks something like this:
Apply -> Answer general lifestyle questionnaire -> Send your poop sample (which is where the gut microbiome is found!) -> Answer food frequency questionnaire
That said, it is actually harder to qualify to be a gut microbiome donor than a blood donor. This is because we follow the most stringent screening protocols worldwide, and our success rates are aligned with the global statistics of about 2%. Once donors are deemed eligible, they would be required to donate their gut microbiome regularly over two months, as long as they stay pathogen- and disease-free.
4. What is the importance of gut microbiome donation?
The short answer is because it saves lives! By supporting us and other researchers in advancing scientific research, and in building an Asiafocused gut microbiome bank, we save lives right away through the transplants we carry out, and in the future through research discoveries applied into clinical practice.
Even though Asia accounts for about 60% of the world’s population, more than 71% of public microbiome profiles come from America, Canada and Europe. This is why it’s important for us to conduct research locally and regionally within Asia.
Every year in September, we run a public health awareness campaign called Poop Saves Lives, where we raise general awareness of how one!s poop can potentially save a life. However, our call for poop donors runs all year long, and we welcome interested parties to visit the website to find out more, and to consider donating their poop.
What are some fun facts about gut microbiomes?
• The gut microbiome can weigh up to 2 kilograms!
• About 30% of the solid matter in our poop is bacterial.
• 70-80% of immune cells are present in our gut, which means that if we want to boost immunity, we should look to the gut for solutions.
• Gut microbes are heavily influenced by our diet and environment—about 10 times more so than our genetics.
• Samples for the Asian microbiome reference library can be stored indefinitely in the stabilising solution at -80°C, while gut microbiome transplant preparations can be stored for over two years.
Jasmin Wong (L), Director and CEO of Dialyss, and
Dr Christian Bluechel (R), co-founder of Dialyss.
Image courtesy of Dialyss.
Jasmin Wong, Director and CEO of Dialyss
A med-tech startup incubated at Temasek Polytechnic and based in The Galen at Singapore Science Park, Dialyss uses innovation and technology to increase dialysis patients’ mobility, freedom, and quality of life. This is done through their sorbent technology which allows a minimal volume of dialysate (or dialysis fluid) to be used per hemodialysis treatment.
Dialyss’ sorbent technology is the first regenerative dialysis technology to comply with the strict requirements of today’s industry standards for hemodialysis devices. It is the key enabler for the miniatuarisation and cost effectiveness of the portable home hemodialysis device, Neokidney. Dialyss was acquired by Neokidney’s parent company, NextKidney, in early 2022 to combine the expertise of both companies in bringingthe device to market in 2024.
1. How does dialysis usually work, and how does this differ from Dialyss’ technology?
There hasn’t been much innovation in the field of dialysis for the past 50 years, unlike other medical areas like cardiology, diabetes management, and plastic surgery.
Majority of dialysis patients with kidney failure or end-stage renal disease in Singapore are on hemodialysis—more specifically, single pass dialysis systems paired with reverse osmosis water purification. This involves blood being pumped out of patients’ bodies and into an artificial kidney machine, where blood will be filtered through a dialyser before being pumped back into patients’ bodies..These systems are bulky, immobile, and use large volumes of water (about 120 litres), so patients would have to travel down to dialysis centres three to five times a week for dialysis that lasts about four hours each time.
However, our sorbent technology only requires five litres of fluid per dialysis session. It allows patients to carry out hemodialysis treatment in the comfort of their own homes, and gives patients the freedom to take charge of their dialysis schedule. Our technology also does not require additional water or drainage, so it can be easily used in areas affected by disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes, and warfare.
2. What is the significance of making dialysis more portable?
Singapore is ranked first in the world for diabetes-related kidney failure, with 5.5 new patients in Singapore diagnosed with kidney failure daily on average. For many of these patients, dialysis is the focal point around which their life and the lives of their family revolves because of how time- and energy-consuming it is. Portable dialysis devices would give these patients full freedom to choose the location of their treatment, and even allow them to travel while being treated.
We are currently developing a portable sorbent-based home hemodialysis device with NextKidney, a med-tech company based in Switzerland. The total weight of the device is less than 10kg, and fits into cabin sized luggage. This makes the Neokidney the lightest and most compact hemodialysis device in the market.
With smaller cartridges and a regenerative system,
Dialyss aims to make the process of hemodialysis
more portable and accessible for all patients.
Image courtesy of Dialyss.
3. What were some of the challenges you faced since starting up Dialyss?
We moved into The Galen at the start of the pandemic in 2020. It was difficult setting up a new office and laboratory due to the restrictions in place, and disruptions on the logistics side.
Despite these challenges, we’re now well on our way to completing and marketing our portable hemodialysis device in 2024.
4. You’ve personally been in the med-tech industry for quite a while now. What is it that keeps you going?
I started off as a nurse working with patients with kidney failure. I learnt a lot about the challenges faced by patients and their families, and wanted to help them overcome these challenges in a practical way. At the same time, I am also inspired by stories of patients around the world who refuse to let dialysis stop them from having adventures, chasing their dreams, and enjoying life. This pushes my team and I to create solutions that would make a difference in a patient’s quality of life. Our technology aims to improve the efficiency of dialysis treatments, and make treatment more accessible and affordable for all patients, especially those in rural areas.
5. What are your hopes for the future of Dialyss?
We are currently working towards commercialising our device in Europe, US and Asia by expanding our development and manufacturing capacity in Asia.
Sorbent-based hemodialysis is not well known in Singapore, so another one of our goals is to work closely with local physicians and government agencies to spread a greater awareness of its benefits to patients, our healthcare system, and government.
Though most of the work that AMILI and Dialyss do are behind closed laboratory doors, the impacts of their research and products have the potential to improve many lives, and are making waves in their respective industries not just in Singapore, but in the region as well.
That said, we’re excited to see how much further they’ll go in the near future.