Senior Clinical Science Specialist
My research areas of interest have always been infectious diseases, virology, immunology and cancer. After I completed my PhD at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Germany, I was planning a few post-doctoral years abroad. I was already in contact with a couple of labs in the US and Australia when my PhD supervisor brought to my attention Dr. Ulrich Bernard's Lab in Singapore studying Human Papilloma Viruses (HPV). As the role of HPV in the etiology of cervical cancer was discovered in the DKFZ (Dr. Harald zur Hausen later received the Nobel prize for this discovery), it seemed to be a perfect match for both my scientific interest and my desire to work a while abroad. Dr. Bernard's enthusiasm about his research lab and also about everything else Singapore had to offer made my decision easy. I was planning to stay for 3 years but it became close to 8 years, and I enjoyed every moment of my stay.
The IMCB was under the capable leadership of Dr. Chris Tan (founding Director) when I joined end of 1989. The labs were already set up and running smoothly, the work atmosphere was inspiring, and I had many interesting discussions with colleagues in our group as well as those from other fields. The IMCB group leaders were very knowledgeable and engaged and we trained many clever and enthusiastic PhD students. It was also highly motivating to see how Singapore's reputation as a center of excellent research grew over the years. I remember at my first Keystone meeting for transcriptional research no one knew of Singapore and our work was treated with skepticism. A few years later, the reactions had changed into a rather admiring "Oh, you are from Singapore!" and I received much better recognition presenting our data.
The world class research conducted in Dr. Bernard’s lab, including HPV evolution, made me a desirable candidate for a Silicon Valley Biotech Company. In 1997, Maxygen offered me a project leader position to use molecular evolution to generate an episomal vector for cutaneous gene therapy based on benign HPVs. Even though it was hard to leave Singapore, it turned out to be a good move as it made the prediction of a Singapore palm reader come true – he told me that I would have savings for the rest of my life. (Maxygen went public in the golden years of biotech and I benefitted substantially from the stock option program.) I worked for 13 years at Maxygen as a group leader for the HPV project and later for a dengue virus vaccine project which was my ‘pet’ project as Dengue infections are on the rise worldwide and I was always a target for the Aedes mosquitoes in Singapore. When Maxygen out-licensed its vaccine programs, I moved into clinical research and that gave me a broad perspective of clinical practices all over the world. I am now working as a Senior Clinical Science Specialist in Oncology at Genentech/ Roche in San Francisco.
My connection to Singapore is still thriving as I remain in contact with old friends from the IMCB and with a summer student from Singapore who worked in my group at Maxygen and recently moved back to Singapore to pursue her dream of teaching, after completing a PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University. Genentech also has clinical sites in Singapore and our South-East Asian Investigator Meetings are regularly held in Singapore. I try to visit Singapore whenever the opportunity arises.