Singapore

New heads for A*Star institutes

Major restructuring at research agency

Two scientists wooed here to drive Singapore's biomedical push are relinquishing key leadership positions at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), after more than a decade helming major research institutes.

Professor Jackie Ying, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN), and Professor Birgitte Lane, head of the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB), will step down on March 31, an A*Star spokesman told The Straits Times.

While they will continue as senior A*Star scientists and run their own labs, they will no longer have a say in how their institutes are run or their research direction.

The move caught scientists off guard, with some expressing uncertainty over how their own work would be affected. Both women belong to a pool of top researchers, coined "whales".

Many were wooed here by former A*Star chairman Philip Yeo to kick-start Singapore's foray into the biomedical sciences. They are among the last big names among this group to be heading research institutes.

The leadership changes come at a time when A*Star - the lead public sector agency spearheading Singapore's research and development - is undergoing restructuring, such as reviewing its funding mechanism.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean had said this will enable A*Star to keep up with a changing industry.

A*Star said it has appointed two covering executive directors for IMB and IBN from April next year.

Prof Ying, 51, told ST: "I feel torn because I have so much vested in this institute. I have been here for almost 15 years, and the labs and institute (were) all built from scratch."

The US citizen and Singapore permanent resident, who came over from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2003, has led the IBN from the start. Under her leadership, the institute has conducted interdisciplinary research across science, engineering and medicine, with the aim of improving healthcare and quality of life.

It has more than 680 patents and patent applications, established 13 spin-off companies and published more than 1,300 papers in academic journals.

Prof Ying, who on Tuesday was named a fellow of the US National Academy of Inventors, said she will continue research as an A*Star senior fellow and will lead the new NanoBio Lab, which will focus on nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Mr Philip Yeo, who is now chairman of Spring Singapore, said of the development: "For any organisation to remain relevant, especially in a fast-changing technology scene, timely leadership succession must be carefully deliberated, consulted and humanely effected. "

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