Johnson & Johnson Vision, the eye health unit of Johnson & Johnson MedTech, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, an agency under Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, to jointly establish an Eye Health Digital Innovation Consortium.
Based on a press statement, the consortium will focus on advancing eye health research. Over the next three years, both JJVision and A*STAR will collectively invest SG$15 million ($10.7 million) in the consortium.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Seen as a first of its kind in Asia-Pacific, the consortium will set up public-private partnerships between eye care professionals, academia, and the eye health industry. These partnerships will jointly identify and prioritise the most pressing eye health needs within the region and develop innovations addressing these needs.
Over the next five years, it will focus on key areas which include improving eye healthcare delivery; optimising collaborations to enhance eye healthcare delivery; and developing new technological processes to support enterprises involved in primary eye healthcare delivery.
The consortium will initially work on projects that will leverage data-centric research and new technologies, such as blockchain, AI, and data privacy preservation techniques, as well as personal data compliance to create trusted data access and enable data sharing between patients, eye care professionals, researchers, clinical practitioners and public health policymakers. These projects are:
MyoA*Bank: a digital data consent management platform that consolidates anonymised data for studies in eye health.
Behaviourally-informed messages to improve eye health behaviours, such as going for comprehensive eye health check-ups.
E-referral and e-triaging for step-up and step-down care in the community.
A*STAR’s Institute of High-Performance Computing, which will host the consortium, will be providing its expertise in blockchain and trust technologies in developing the said projects.
WHY IT MATTERS
Almost two-thirds of patients with moderate to severe vision impairment globally come from East, South, and Central Asia. Specifically, South Asia has the highest prevalence of moderate to severe vision impairment at 17.5% and mild vision impairment at 12.2%, a study found. Most of these impairments, according to A*STAR, are caused by preventable conditions.
One reason for this rising trend is APAC’s ageing population. A study published in The Lancet Global Health journal indicated that over the past two decades, the number of blind people in the region jumped by 17.6% due to population growth and ageing.
When it comes to myopia, the high-income countries within the region, including Singapore, have the highest overall prevalence of this condition in the world at 53.4%, one study noted. In Singapore, it is projected that around 80%-90% of its adult population will be myopic by 2050.
Even if there is a huge need for eye care in Asian populations, this remains to be an unmet demand, according to JJVision. In Southeast Asia, for example, only four in 10 countries reached an optimal ophthalmologist-population ratio (one for every 100,000) while most ophthalmologists in the region reside in urban areas, according to a journal paper.
“Thus, as eye diseases and eye health needs become increasingly prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region, the development of innovative solutions and effective delivery of eye care is more critical than ever,” JJVision stressed.
THE LARGER TREND
The establishment of a digital eye health consortium in APAC led by JJVision comes as the company released in August last year its three-year roadmap for developing Singapore’s integrated eye health ecosystem. It seeks to implement some key initiatives, including a community eye health e-referral network, an AI-powered eye care service, and telehealth.
ON THE RECORD
“There is a high prevalence of eye disorders among Singapore’s population, and this is a cause for concern. Open innovation and public-private partnerships will pave the way for us to leverage strengths from different parties and develop solutions to address this complex healthcare challenge,” said Tan Sze Wee, assistant chief executive for enterprise at A*STAR.
JJVision APAC VP for Vision Care Vaibhav Saran also noted that the consortium has “an exciting opportunity to drive digital solution platforms in the prevention and management of myopia and other eye diseases.” “These will help to enhance the eye health ecosystem that we are building,” he added.
“Infusing our high science with greater access to eye health data is critical as we work to shape the standard of care, particularly for APAC’s continued battle with the rise of myopia. The wealth of knowledge that will be exchanged through this consortium will greatly enhance how we innovate bold solutions to improve healthy sight across APAC, and even more broadly,” JJVision Group Chairman Peter Menziuso also commented.