The Life-Saving Researcher
Her World Singapore|December 2020
It was the start of the outbreak – and crucial that a test kit had to be developed to identify cases and stem the spread. Dr Yee and her team at DxD Hub supported and fasttracked the development of the Fortitude Kit. It was used across 13 hospitals and labs here.
It was the start of the outbreak – and crucial that a test kit had to be developed to identify cases and stem the spread. Dr Yee and her team at DxD Hub supported and fast-tracked the development of the Fortitude Kit. It was used across 13 hospitals and labs here.

DEVELOPED CRITICAL TESTING SOLUTIONS FOR THE COUNTRY

On a quiet Sunday morning, our crew of eight arrives at Biopolis. The campus is a ghost town – the streets are devoid of pedestrians, restaurants are shuttered, and even the convenience store is closed.

When we head up to the third floor of her office building, the first thing that greets us is the smell of freshly brewed Starbucks coffee, followed by Dr Yee. “Good morning! Help yourselves to some breakfast and coffee,” she chirps, gesturing to a breakfast spread that she had laid out.

Just eight months ago, the scene in this office couldn’t have been more different. At the start of the outbreak, the race was on to develop a diagnostic test kit to detect the presence of Covid-19. Dr Yee and her team at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*Star) Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub worked round the clock to help co-develop the Fortitude Kit, which can detect the presence of Covid-19 with high accuracy. It was clear that time was of the essence.

“We literally camped in the office for days and nights,” reveals Dr Weng Ruifen, chief of product development and project management at DxD Hub.

In just three weeks, the Fortitude Kit was ready.

The making of a test kit

One of DxD Hub’s functions is to help create clinically validated diagnostics devices that are ready for market adoption. To do so, they work with other scientists and clinicians, to help with the development and commercialisation of their products.

For instance, the Fortitude Kit was a joint effort involving: Dr Masafumi Inoue, principal scientist, DxD Hub, A*Star; Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, deputy executive director (Research), Bioinformatics Institute (BII); and Associate Professor Dr Timothy Barkham, senior consultant Medical Microbiologist, Department of Laboratory Medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

Dr Yee and her team were brought on because they needed the expertise on making it a feasible product that would promise consistent performance, and ensure that it could be deployed to any lab around the world.

Essentially, we have Dr Yee and her team to thank for the widespread availability of Covid-19 testing kits here.

“Everyone literally just bit the bullet and went ahead. That was incredible. I am extremely grateful,” Dr Yee says of the long hours that the team pulled.

She was equally touched by the collaborative spirit from the scientific community during this crisis.

“It was quite incredible how different parties just decided to work together on something without thinking about drawing up an agreement or laying down any ground rules of how they were going to collaborate,” Dr Yee explains. Instead, everyone just shook hands and got to it.

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