Ensure rapid, affordable access to medical innovation

I read "Tracking mutated genes that wreak havoc" (last Friday) with a mix of pride and concern.

Pride, because of the good work that our researchers are doing to improve people's lives, but concern too, due to the high costs of diagnostics and treatment reported.

The child described in the report required weekly blood transfusions, costing $2,000 a week. Genomic sequencing, which eventually identified the cause of the child's illness, costs "$1,500 to $2,500 per person", but was free for families involved in the project described in the report, only because of research grant support.

There are two issues fundamental to the continued success of our healthcare system in providing excellent and affordable care for all Singaporeans.

First, for Singaporeans afflicted with rare diseases or whose care involves therapies that do not fall into the categories adequately funded through our subsidies and the Medisave, MediShield, Medifund (3M) framework - understandably designed for common conditions - what are their options to access funding support, and how timely are the processes?

Second, while innovative treatments should be thoroughly evaluated before entry into mainstream financing schemes, what is Singapore's process for doing so in a timely manner?

Genomic sequencing was clearly medically necessary for the child described in the report, but what happens when the research grant ends?

When and how will genomic sequencing or any cutting-edge medical service exit funding through research grants and enter into a services financing framework?

Singapore's journey to becoming a biomedical powerhouse is now well under way. Let us ensure that Singaporeans benefit from these advances, not just from the pride we feel when Singapore succeeds on the global stage, but also from rapid and affordable access to these innovations.

Jeremy Lim Fung Yen (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Ensure rapid, affordable access to medical innovation'. Print Edition | Subscribe