ws logo Saturday, 20 July 2024

Tanoto Foundation Medical Philanthropy bridges funding gaps in medical research

5 min read

By Foo Boon Ping

The Tanoto Foundation held its inaugural Medical Philanthropy Forum to award the first recipients of its Medical Research Fund grants.The event underscores the foundation's commitment to advancing medical research by addressing critical funding gaps and fostering a culture of sustainable giving.

The Tanoto Foundation Medical Philanthropy Forum, held in Singapore on 4 July 2024, marked a significant milestone in the foundation's efforts to advance medical research. The event brought together leading medical experts, philanthropists, and  policymakers to discuss the critical role of philanthropic capital in bridging funding gaps and accelerating innovations in healthcare. The forum recognised the first three recipients of the Tanoto Foundation Medical Research Fund (MRF), each receiving substantial grants to further research in key healthcare areas.

The Tanoto Foundation, founded in 1981 by Sukanto Tanoto and Tinah Bingei Tanoto, is a philanthropic organisation based on the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to realise their full potential. The foundation’s philosophy centres around harnessing the transformative power of education and research to create equal opportunities and improve lives. To date, the Tanoto Foundation has made significant impacts through various projects of passion, including improving learning environments, developing future leaders, and advancing medical research and sciences.

Benny Lee, CEO of the Tanoto Foundation, emphasised the foundation's longstanding commitment to medical philanthropy, noting that despite over 15 years of support in this field, the establishment of the MRF marks a new chapter. The fund, launched in September 2023, aims to bridge the gap between small-scale initiatives and large-scale projects, focusing on impactful discoveries and fostering sustainable giving in medical research. Lee highlighted that the foundation’s SGD 5 million annual funding is intended to catalyse additional funding opportunities and nurture local research talent, ultimately improving healthcare outcomes in Singapore and beyond.

The MRF’s main objectives include supporting research excellence, encouraging collaborations, and ensuring that research outcomes are accessible for public benefit. Lee stated, “Our hope is that through these initiatives, we can support impactful  discoveries, catalyse additional funding opportunities, and ensure local talent here in Singapore.” This initiative comes at a critical time when, according to Lee, only 1 in 10,000 academic discoveries make it to practical applications, and philanthropic contributions to medical research remain relatively small.

Its executive advisor, Bey Soo Khiang, highlighted the foundation’s strategy in targeting underfunded areas that can have a substantial impact on population health. He remarked on the significance of prioritising research in areas like maternal and  child  health and cardiology, which are often overlooked despite their critical importance. Bey stated, “There is a large segment of the population that these research areas impact, and by prioritising them, we address significant unmet healthcare needs”.

Reflecting on the foundation’s historical commitment to medical research, Bey remarked, "Since 2009, we have supported medical research projects, endowing three professorships at Duke-NUS Medical School in oncology, diabetes, and cardiology. Each professorship contributes to ongoing research initiatives." This long-term support underscores the foundation’s dedication to fostering high-quality medical research and leveraging Singapore’s biomedical ecosystem.

Bey further elaborated on the foundation's expansion efforts with the MRF, stating, "The fund is a continuation of our commitment to improving healthcare outcomes and encouraging innovations in medical research. By focusing on maternal and child health, diabetes, oncology, cardiology and infectious disease, we aim to bridge the funding gap between small-scale initiatives and large-scale projects." This strategic focus aligns with the foundation's goal of catalysing additional funding opportunities and supporting impactful discoveries. 

Beyond medical research, the Tanoto Foundation is deeply involved in educational initiatives, emphasising early childhood development, nutrition, and leadership and entrepreneurship development. Lee highlighted, "Our programmes in education stem from the belief that quality education accelerates equal opportunity. From early childhood education and nutrition to leadership and entrepreneurship development, we aim to harness the transformative power of education to realise people’s full potential and improve lives."

Bey echoed this sentiment, adding, "We believe that every person should have the opportunity to realise his or her full potential. Our educational initiatives are designed to provide a solid foundation from early childhood through to adulthood, ensuring that individuals are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed." These initiatives reflect the foundation’s holistic approach to fostering human potential through education and healthcare.

The forum included a panel discussion titled “Philanthropy's impact on medical innovation: Accelerating research to real-world medical solutions in Singapore,” featuring leading medical experts. They emphasised the importance of collaboration between medical professionals, philanthropists, and policymakers to implement scalable medical interventions.

Professor Chong Yap Seng, Dean of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicines of the NUS underscored the necessity of focusing on underfunded areas to maximise the impact of philanthropic capital, aligning with the foundation’s goals. "The advantage of charitable foundations is that they don't have to answer to industry or government as much and are free to follow their own priorities," he said.

Associate Professor Lim Su Chi, Clinical Director at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, highlighted the unique position of Singapore as a nexus of East and West, stating, “We have the best of both worlds, and it is our responsibility to drive research that improves health in this region.” He emphasised the importance of addressing the funding mechanisms and ensuring that research in underfunded areas receives the necessary support.

Associate Professor Ng Kee Chong, CEO of Changi General Hospital, emphasised the importance of transdisciplinary projects, stating, "Integrated research that spans across disciplines such as cardiology, oncology, and metabolic diseases is essential. By leveraging the combined expertise of different fields, we can address complex health issues more effectively and advance healthcare innovation.” This approach aligns with the foundation’s vision of fostering collaboration to achieve impactful research outcomes.

The three awarded projects exemplify the foundation’s focus areas: Associate Professor Ashley St John from Duke-NUS Medical School will investigate maternal influences on neonatal allergies to develop prevention therapies. Professor Brian Kennedy from the NUS is exploring interventions to delay ovarian aging, aiming to extend fertility and improve maternal health. Associate Professor Rinkoo Dalan from Tan Tock Seng Hospital will research the use of colchicine, a low-cost anti-inflammatory drug, to prevent heart attacks and strokes in diabetes patients.

These projects, selected from over 100 applications, reflect the calibre and potential for impact envisioned by the Tanoto Foundation. By fostering a culture of sustainable giving and targeting critical healthcare challenges, the foundation is poised to make significant contributions to medical research and public health.

The Tanoto Foundation Medical Philanthropy Forum 2024 underscored the important role of philanthropic capital in bridging funding gaps and advancing medical research. The foundation’s commitment to fostering innovative solutions and nurturing local talent highlights its vision for a healthier future.

Keywords: Medical Philanthropy, Medical Research Fund, Funding Gaps, Innovations, Impactful Discoveries, Healthcare, Culture Of Sustainable Giving, Colchicine, Medical Research Fund (mrf), Education Initiatives, Maternal And Child Health, Cardiology, Oncology, Diabetes, Infectious Diseases, Early Childhood Development, Nutrition Programmes, Ovarian Aging, Neonatal Allergies, Biomedical Ecosystem
Institution: Tanoto Foundation
Country: Singapore
Region: Asia
People: Benny Lee, Bey Soo Khiang, Chong Yap Seng, Lim Su Chi, Ng Kee Chong
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