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EF: Could you provide some background on your career at Roche?
KY: Most of my career in Roche has been spent managing molecular lab products since 1999 and as a product specialist. Over the years, I have had opportunities to move across other businesses as well as going into tissue diagnostics, which is now known as the pathology lab business, and I also spent a year in China managing the central marketing team for immunoassays of our core lab products. I’ve had a good learning experience across 23 years in Roche, and I was thankful for the opportunity when my manager retired this year.
EF: What was the mission you set yourself when you were appointed?
KY: In terms of looking at the team, we were coming out of the pandemic, though not completely, and things were settling down. My primary focus was getting the team refocused on the routine business. It has been a tiring two to three years, so encouraging the team to move forward with the internal transformation and collaborative efforts is a task for us to achieve. I’m thankful for my previous manager, who left as I inherited a strong team to start with, meaning there was already a solid foundation for us to build on. We set ourselves the task of reigniting passion and finding what drives our employees when it comes to working. This is an important environment for them, and we must embrace it. Singapore is putting COVID into an endemic situation, so we need to learn how to manage that and continue the business routine.
EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics and prevention; 2021 became the year of vaccinations; what will 2022 be remembered for?
KY: 2022 for Singapore will most likely be the year of relaxing measures. We passed policy changes where we stepped down testing, which became a non-necessity, and the other big thing was the borders opening up. This year where we allow people to enter without testing, and there are a lot of us going out as well. People are trying to live the pre-COVID life again by traveling, and from that perspective, just considering the impact on the Singaporeans, what they will most likely remember as stepping down of the measures and embracing the endemic with the borders opening up.
EF: What are the oncology strategy and the strategic importance of Singapore to the company?
KY: If you google Roche STCC (Singapore Translational Cancer Consortium), you will find the press release from earlier this year, which is our take. Roche is looking into working with the government to shape the ecosystem toward genomic profiling. The data insights with various cancers provide information about what it will mean for us and potentially diagnostics. Looking further down the road, a certain genetic signature that is specific to certain cancer could be taken for research and diagnostics.
Personalized healthcare in oncology means matching the specific genetic mutation with a specific class of drugs, which can evolve into better and more specific care for individuals with specific mutations. We are also having this type of partnership together with pharma and moving into that healthcare ecosystem. This means leveraging our strength in pharma and diagnostics to drive efforts with the government and policymakers on how we can change and improve the outcome of patients in the long run.
EF: What are your expectations from this collaboration, and what do you hope to achieve?
KY: At this juncture, we are still driving cancer care in parts, meaning that there is step-by-step management. I envision finding out whether it makes sense to investigate genetic profiling from the start and, from that opportunity, derive types of targeted therapies. Comprehensive genetic profiling throws hundreds of different mutations out during the process, whereas now, the step-by-step process means going through hotspots and diversifying the various cancers.
EF: How do you diversify your portfolio, and what are the lessons learned from managing two different market portfolios?
KY: The pandemic meant that we had to reprioritize, so we had products in the pipeline held back, and some of those in areas of non-communicable diseases. We learned from the pandemic how to work closely with policymakers and regulators to bring tests into the market in record time. It usually takes years before we can get a product through regulatory approval, but COVID took us less than a month to get things through. Roche was the first company in the world to get a PCR on a fully automated system. I remember when we were informed that we had the EUA test on the market, we were very surprised; never in my 22 years of experience had we seen something like the 2020 experience.
Bringing it closer to home, once we got approval from the FDA and EUA, we quickly brought tests to Singapore and the local Health Sciences Authority, our regulatory body. They approved the test in record time using the provisional authorization route. That learning for me stands out. We all must come together to get this type of test released as quickly as possible because there is an immediate need. When Monkey Pox first appeared, we were again quick to launch into the market three different products. We won’t stop focusing on communicable diseases but will continue to drive tests because infectious diseases are one of our areas of focus, picking up on what we left off.
EF: How can we increase awareness of the importance of oncology diagnostics?
KY: Working with regulators is key. I’m aware that our interactions with our local regulators were always evidence-based. Whichever product comes to the market that has been thoroughly reviewed with evidence, the time for approval can be shorter. The intention would be to engage regulators earlier, providing them with the requirements or providing us with the requirements of what they would be looking into, allowing us to bring products into the market faster. I would imagine that for oncology-related tests, the outcome is more toward the personalized healthcare side; the evidence with the therapy must go together.
The special thing about the collaboration with STCC is that there isn’t a particular gene that we are going after; it’s a full genomic profile that we are looking at. We don’t know where it will go, but that’s why we are embarking on the exercise.
EF: What would you like to achieve in this new moment in your career?
KY: To continue to provide a good workplace for the employees. It’s critical that the organization is made up of its people; that’s a strong belief of mine. You can have all the great products, but if you do not have the right people to execute them, then it goes nowhere. Another aspect is ensuring that the team continues to be empowered whilst retaining and motivating them to do what they do every day with purpose. The other aspect is regarding the adoption of digital into diagnostics, be it near patients or at hospital levels; we have the products that can help, but it’s slow right now. Comparing transportation and F&B platforms, we’re hoping to get that type of adoption, but there will be challenges regarding cyber security and PDPA. But we also want to continue working with the right stakeholders, we have been on that journey for a while now, and I hope that during my tenure, we can see it come to fruition.
Singapore is moving into preventative care, and if you google “healthier SG,” you’ll see this. This is something that we are transforming along with the Ministry of Health's direction for managing care, and we want to work closely together with policymakers. COVID brought us many opportunities for digital adoption and telemedicine. With that as a stage, we could see how we can work with policymakers in shaping the future of healthcare in the context of digital adoption, which can impact the users. Taking that type of behavior change into preventative care is how I see the future, and in diagnostics, we play a role together with the government and various stakeholders. Insurance companies, for example, would be aligned with this as they are focused on preventive care as well, so the focus ought to be on such collaborations across the eco-system and to bring the future of healthcare.
The responsibility of individuals to manage their own care before disease hits them is integral. Technology has evolved so that things can be done at earlier stages of the disease and before further development. For example, the HPV human papillomavirus test provides the opportunity almost to prevent cervical cancer if done with the vaccine.
EF: How can the healthcare sector become appealing to the younger generations?
KY: My daughter is in Game Arts and Design, and one of the things that get to the point is behavioral change with digital adoption; I wonder if we could consider aspects such as gamification. We have examples of this for rehabilitation by putting patients in front of a TV and getting them to do exercises through guided apps, making it interesting and fun, so it’s not just a set of exercises to follow. To draw younger generations would be to utilize some aspect of their creativity then, and of course, there is always the more serious side of things, such as research which requires going into depth. The COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, for example, uses AI in its mRNA sequence design; there will most likely be more utilization of such aspects, which could prove attractive to the younger generations.