CHICAGO – In opening a new R&D center in Singapore and widening an existing research partnership with a major healthcare system there, BC Platforms announced its intention to diversify genomic datasets.
BC Platforms' deputy managing director, Nino da Silva, said that the bioinformatics firm is particularly interested in the Asia-Pacific region because there is a shortage of Asian haplotypes for research into treatments that could be optimized for the continent that is home to 60 percent of the world's population.
"Our main focus is to create a network of real-world data partners that through the platform can start working on a much broader scale with international partners," said da Silva, "so that this unmet need can be satisfied."
The new R&D center will serve as the Swiss firm's hub for precision medicine activities in key Asia-Pacific markets, including China and Japan. BC Platforms has operated in Singapore since 2019, but the new facility represents a significant expansion in the region. "This is a major show of commitment to the region that we are here to stay," da Silva said.
BC Platforms federates data for analysis, a popular strategy across the bioinformatics world in recent years.
The firm has its headquarters in Zurich but also runs an R&D center in Espoo, Finland, and sales and marketing offices in Boston, London, and Singapore. The Singapore office opened in 2019 to support operations in the Asia-Pacific region, and da Silva moved there from Switzerland shortly thereafter.
Da Silva said that while the company has enjoyed annual growth of about 50 percent since 2018, the biggest increase in recent years has come from Asia. The privately held firm, which does not report its financial results, found Singapore to be the "optimal" place for a hub, based on the city-state's location as well as medical technology, research, and education infrastructure, he said.
"Our job is to understand the need, establish the know-how with our partners … in the region, and then find out … how we can help them transition towards precision medicine and towards better use of data," da Silva said. "We want to be helping Singapore to get these tools and the good research they have to our networks around the world."
The Singapore R&D center will focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to analyze real-world data. An initial project will be to tailor the existing BC Platforms federated system to Asia-Pacific nations to support collaborative, international research and provide pharmaceutical companies with data reflective of the region.
BC Platforms technologists in Singapore will also upgrade user interfaces and the user experience for the firm to roll out worldwide. Da Silva said that there is nothing wrong with current BC Platforms UI and UX tools, but customer needs can and do evolve.
As part of its expanded partnership with BC Platforms, Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) is joining the technology vendor's BC|Rquest global data network for analyzing and viewing aggregated genomic and clinical data from multiple biobanks. Working with BC Platforms, the health system will seek to accelerate research and uncover new genetic knowledge related to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions prevalent in Asian populations.
As a member of BC|Rquest, SingHealth will supply data for other network members around the world to use in their own research. Adding Asian genetic data to the network will "create real power" for other researchers, according to da Silva.
This builds on an existing cardiac research partnership between BC Platforms and SingHealth. In an email, Yeo Khung Keong, deputy group CMIO for research at SingHealth, said that the health system and technology vendor wanted to expand the earlier agreement to strengthen research capabilities across the region as well as make more effective therapies available to a wider patient population.
"Under this partnership, we hope to work with BC Platforms to integrate complex datasets, such as different types of genomics data, to gain insights to biomarkers that might have predictive or prognostic relevance in cancer. If successful, these biomarkers could potentially be used to improve diagnosis and treatment of cancer," Yeo said.
The expanded partnership formally started in December, according to Yeo, though BC Platforms did not announce it until this month.
SingHealth is one of three major public healthcare systems in Singapore, along with National University Health System and National Healthcare Group. BC Platforms counts all three as customers. While SingHealth is the first to enter into a data partnership with the company, da Silva said that National Healthcare Group's flagship Tan Tock Seng Hospital will soon be adopting the firm's pharmacogenomics reporting algorithms.
Yeo said that the partners have started to look into research projects on cardiomyopathies and precision oncology. While the research work is in preliminary stages, Yeo indicated that SingHealth is "in discussion" with BC Platforms on launching a pilot study to organize multidimensional genomics data from the organization's flagship precision oncology program, called Individualized Molecular Profiling for Allocation to Cancer Therapeutics, or IMPACT.
The research SingHealth is doing with BC Platforms is separate from Singapore's National Precision Medicine program. However, Yeo, a cardiologist, said that the health system and the national program have similar goals to improve disease risk prediction and customize therapies for individual patients.
Yeo declined to say what kinds of genomic data SingHealth will be compiling and analyzing on the BC Platforms system or how many DNA samples will be sequenced, saying that the partnership expansion is too new.