National University of Singapore Launches a Homegrown Technology for Rapid Diagnosis of Dengue Fever

The National University of Singapore (NUS) recently concluded a deal with Singapore-based life science upstart Asia Pacific Genomics (AP Genomics), giving the company exclusive rights to exploit its proprietary type-specific dengue fever diagnostic primers. The DNA-based multiplex diagnostic test will enable rapid diagnosis and confirmation of dengue, as well as identify the specific serotype of dengue causing the infection.

"NUS is eager to work closely with promising local enterprises like AP Genomics and international players to bring exciting proprietary technologies developed by the university to commercial and practical reality. This can only contribute to our commitment to create true value for Singapore's increasingly vibrant life science sector," said Dr. Kwa Siew Hwa, who runs INTRO, the university's commercialization arm.

Associate Professor Vincent Chow, who developed the kit, said he is really excited with the key role that AP Genomics is playing in taking the dengue diagnostic technology from the bench to the marketplace. "The general availability of the test will be a boon for rapid confirmation of dengue infection. AP Genomics fills a much needed gap in translating promising genome-based technologies into practical applications," he said.

With the alarming regularity of dengue epidemics in Asia as well as Africa and even the Americas (there are as many as 60 million cases of dengue fever around the world each year), there is a growing international need for rapid diagnosis and proactive public health management for dengue fever. The technology from NUS offers a much-awaited solution.

According to Dr. Sharan Sambhi, who heads the project management team at AP Genomics for dengue kit development, currently available diagnostic approaches for dengue are not ideal. "Early diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs and symptoms, and cases are often misdiagnosed or left undiagnosed until too late," said Sambhi.

Dr. Gurinder Shahi, Interim CEO for AP Genomics, said, "The need for a more effective and practical approach to the diagnosis of dengue is so great, we immediately recognized the immense public health potential of Chow's primers, and their use for accelerating diagnosis of the disease."

Dr. Nor Shahidah Khairullah, Head of Virology at The Infectious Diseases Research Centre of the 100-year-old Institute for Medical Research in Malaysia, is anticipated to oversee the testing for field validation of the dengue diagnostic technology.

The successful transfer of this technology is expected to pave the way for the commercialization of many more technologies that NUS has in the pipeline. In fact, the university has reportedly amassed more than 200 homegrown technologies, 82 of which have been patented. NUS enjoys close relationships with 10 national institutes, 14 university research institutes, and more than 50 faculty-based research centers, and it seems likely that the combination of research excellence and tech transfer know-how will quickly lead to many other entrepreneurial opportunities.

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