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Dean's Message


Dean Thomas Coffman

COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges to the way we live, research, and educate. As a research-intensive medical school, Duke-NUS is facing these challenges with fierce dedication. Our faculty, staff and students are each in their own way doing their part to fight this outbreak. Our clinical faculty in the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other selfless healthcare workers on the front lines caring for patients. At the same time, our scientists have been on the research frontlines since this outbreak began – as one of the first groups in the world to culture the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus from patient samples and in developing antibody-based serological tests for epidemiological tracing. We have created this special web page to highlight their latest findings and contributions.

Duke-NUS was in an ideal position to assist in the national response to COVID-19 as a direct result of vision and foresight of the Singapore government and our early school leaders who established the Emerging and Infectious Diseases Programme (EID), as a part of Duke-NUS after it was founded in 2005, not long after the SARS outbreak. Since its inception, the EID programme has integrated the surveillance of new and emerging pathogens with the development of novel treatments, prevention, and control strategies to protect public health. The establishment of our ABSL3 facility in 2013 provided a safe environment for isolating and studying dangerous pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, a requisite step for developing vaccines and cures.

These are trying times, but Duke-NUS will continue to work tirelessly toward developing solutions for COVID-19, exploiting our cutting-edge research capabilities across partnerships with our colleagues at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre and collaborators in Singapore and around the world. We have collated here the wide range of ongoing efforts at Duke-NUS to address the COVID-19 pandemic, along with links to other useful information. I invite you to have a look. And please contact us if you would be interested in making a donation to support our impactful COVID-19 work.

Professor Thomas M. Coffman

Duke-NUS COVID-19 Update

At Duke-NUS Medical School, teamwork and collaboration are a hallmark of our fight against

Our scientists have been at the forefront of the response to the pandemic since it first surfaced. A team from our Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) programme was among the first in the world to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19, after counterparts in China and Australia. This critical breakthrough was the outcome of strong collaboration between Duke-NUS, the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre (AMC), the Singapore General Hospital, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and the Ministry of Health, Singapore.

The team, led by Professor Wang Linfa from the EID programme, successfully cultured the virus from patient samples early in the outbreak investigation and developed serological antibody tests to identify an important missing link between three major COVID-19 clusters in Singapore. Their research was featured in news headlines around the world, and included public commendations by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

For his contributions to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, Professor Ooi Eng Eong, who is the deputy director of the EID programme, was one of six individuals named Asians of the Year by The Straits Times. The group is collectively referred to as "the virus busters".

cPass™ SARS-CoV-2 Neutralising Antibody Detection Kit

Prof Wang Linfa and team also invented world’s first SARS-CoV-2 serological test to rapidly detect neutralising antibodies without need for containment facilities or live biological materials. The test kit, marketed as cPass™, which was co-developed and produced in partnership with GenScript Biotech Corporation and the Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD Hub) of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), can be used to test potential vaccines, to assess the proportion of the population that has already been infected, and for contact tracing, which is critical as Singapore eases up on circuit breaker measures.

DxD Hub played an important role in obtaining provisional approval from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for the cPass™ test kit, which is now available to Singapore hospitals. As the commercial partner responsible for global marketing and distribution, GenScript has, to date, acquired the CE mark for commercial distribution of the test kit in the EU and received Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on 6 November 2020.

Sample of the COVID-19 virus
A sample of the COVID-19 virus that was cultured in the Duke-NUS containment laboratory.

Resarch assistant Ong Xin Mei, Professor Wang Linfa, and research assistant Lim Beng Lee with the cPass test kits

Prof Wang Linfa and cPass test kit

LUNAR-COV19 vaccine development programme

Duke-NUS’ research collaborations with other organisations have resulted in a new partnership with Arcturus Therapeutics, a US-based biotech firm, to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for Singapore. This partnership, led by Prof Ooi Eng Eong, Deputy Director of our EID programme and Co-Director of the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre (ViREMiCS) at the SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC, aims to bring a vaccine candidate to clinical testing, leveraging a unique molecular platform developed at Duke-NUS that enables rapid screening of vaccines for safety and effectiveness, and Arcturus’ self-replicating mRNA STARR™ Technology in combination with their LUNAR® RNA medicine delivery technology.

Through the SingHealth Duke-NUS AMC, we have extensive clinical trialling capacity, and Singapore is an ideal site for such trials, given our multi-ethnic population. The clinical trials started in Singapore in August 2020 and are ongoing.

Other COVID-19 initiatives at Duke-NUS

Other initiatives based in the EID programme include Prof Antonio Bertoletti’s work on the potential use of immunotherapy to treat infectious diseases such as COVID-19, and research by Prof Gavin Smith and Asst Prof Yvonne Su on genetic changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus and their potential implications for the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Health Services and Systems Research (HSSR) programme is leading on COVID-19-related research on multiple dimensions to inform current and future policy decisions, locally and even globally. Prof Marcus Ong, Director of HSSR, and his team, received close to S$1 million from the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) for a project that aims to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the Singapore health system. The team is working on a virtual outbreak model that can be further developed to simulate disease outbreak scenarios and help enhance our national response to future epidemics.


Press Releases

A simple T-cell test to show the full picture of body’s immune response to COVID-19

New study boosts hopes for a broad vaccine to combat COVID-19 variants and future coronavirus outbreaks

Duke-NUS and GenScript announce notice of allowance for U.S. patent application for SARS-CoV-2 surrogate virus neutralisation test

Individual SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibody immunity lasts from days to decades

Strong and balanced T cell response: Key to controlling SARS-Cov-2 infection without getting COVID-19

Research Publications

Rapid measurement of SARS-CoV-2 spike T cells in whole blood from vaccinated and naturally infected individuals

Pan-Sarbecovirus Neutralizing Antibodies in BNT162b2-Immunized SARS-CoV-1 Survivors

Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibody responses and duration of immunity: a longitudinal study

Highly functional virus-specific cellular immune response in asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection

The T cell response to SARS-CoV-2: kinetic and quantitative aspects and the case for their protective role

COVID-19 Media Coverage