The creation of MiRXES was all about teamwork; working together to address cancer screening, one of health care’s most challenging, unmet needs. “The setting up of MiRXES was the collective vision of the team,” reveals the company’s Co-Founder and CEO Lihan Zhou. “Our goal is quite simple: we want to improve and save lives.”
It’s a worthy goal, and one that forced the company to move from its comfortable, research-only environment seven years ago to one that was more commercial and on the front line of helping the public with its health. When COVID-19 arrived, the company was thrust even more front and centre in Singapore’s battle to cope with the pandemic.
“In early February 2020, just a week after we had the first case of COVID-19, we were asked to join a meeting with the government,” Lihan recalls. “The request was actually quite simple, ‘Who can help the government manufacture 100,000 tests in two weeks?’”
As Lihan explains, that invitation didn’t come by chance; it was the result of a 10-year journey, undertaking the relevant research and building the necessary capabilities to support the government when this urgent need came along. In fact, the company had just held a symposium, marking 10 years of ribonucleic acid (RNA) research only two weeks before the first case of COVID-19 emerged in Singapore.
The silver lining
And if there has been one silver lining to the whole pandemic for Lihan and his industry peers, it is that the general population has now been thoroughly educated in RNA technologies. “Prior to COVID-19, when we told people that we were in RNA technologies, no-one really cared as they hadn’t heard of it before,” he says.
“Now the world has been educated about the potential of RNA in the diagnostics sector.” The other positive thing to come out of the pandemic for Lihan is that it reinforced to him just what a great team he has. “Our people really managed to pull together to respond to this urgent request,” he says proudly.
“In the wake of such a political challenge, people came together. “It was wonderful to see the good side of humanity, when literally everybody from our different teams to those in government, the private sector, hospitals and frontline workers came together to work towards a common goal. We saw how collaborative we can be and how resilient.”
My greatest achievement after seven years is the team that we have created.
So impressive was the effort that Lihan has no doubt the people within his organisation have been the key to MiRXES’ success. “My greatest achievement after seven years is the team that we have created,” he confirms.
“Over the past two to three years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, I realised that it’s really not all about technology or funding. If the team doesn’t come together and can’t work with external stakeholders, then all of that doesn’t even matter.”
Back to the day job
Once the urgency to help others during the pandemic abates, Lihan and his colleagues plan to shift their focus back to cancer. “Now that COVID-19 is stabilising, we’d like to get back to our day job of developing a multicancer test that detects the most prevalent cancers globally,” he reveals.
“That will keep us busy for the next five years, developing and launching in Singapore, regionally, as well as the other markets where we currently have a presence, namely China, Japan and the US.”
Along with the technology it has developed over time and with its strong team of people, something else that sets the company apart from its global competitors is the diversity that its geographical location serendipitously provides.
“Our presence in Singapore and South-East Asia is a big advantage because when we look at things globally, we know that cancer is highly individualised. It’s very personalised in different territories and countries because of our genes and lifestyles, and because our environments present different challenges.
“Most of our peers are leading in major markets like the US and China. We know that China is a highly homogeneous population, and the US is dominantly Caucasian, but what sets us apart – besides our technology and RNA focus – is the ethnic diversity in this region. When we look at the biology, we look at the Chinese, we look at the Indians, and we also look at the Asian population here. So, in fact, the data that we are able to generate out of this region is a lot richer in terms of information.”
Critical to the company’s future will also be its strong supplier relationships. Around six or seven suppliers are high priority, where the relationships are extremely close – to the extent that they visit each other’s plants and help build, customise and improve processes together. Those relationships were tested during COVID-19 when supply chains were disrupted.
Lihan came up with a novel and heartwarming way to deliver the tests the government required when things were becoming strained. “We talked about making 100,000 tests, but we ramped up that capacity to produce one million tests per week by May. And that was at the peak of supply chain disruption,” he points out.
“During that time, the other challenge was that the price of raw materials had gone up significantly. So, in order for us to continue to improve the production capacity, we had to be socially responsible. We ended up going to our suppliers and reassuring them that we were not doing this to make a profit; we were doing it to save lives. We asked them to help us prioritise the supply to Singapore, and because of our longstanding relationships, they did.”
Clearly, MiRXES is a company in good health, and one that wants exactly that for its customers as well. “Prevention is better than cure. Internally, MiRXES works collectively as one team that is aligned to develop new solutions for preventive health care, including cancer early screening,” Lihan says.
“Externally, achieving preventive health care is a multi-stakeholder ecosystem where everyone needs to contribute to this massive vision, with MiRXES being the platform for everyone to grow and advocate a preventive healthcare system.”
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