July 24, 2022

S’porean doctor, a sought-after top expert in cell therapy, appointed to WHO expert panel

By brit

SINGAPORE – A Singaporean doctor who is one of the top cell therapy experts in the world has been appointed to a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert panel.

Dr Mickey Koh is so sought-after in his field that for the past 15 years, he has been holding two jobs in two different countries.

The 56-year-old shuttles between England and Singapore, spending six weeks at a time in London, where he oversees the haematology department and looks after bone marrow transplant patients at St George’s University Hospital, before returning to Singapore for a week and a half to head the cell therapy programme at the Health Sciences Authority.

Cell therapy is a growing field of medicine that uses living cells as treatment for a variety of diseases and conditions. This is an increasingly important therapeutic area and both his employers have agreed to his unusual schedule.

Over in London, Dr Koh is head of the Haematology Department at St George’s Hospital and Medical School. In Singapore, he is the programme and medical director of the cell and gene therapy facility at the Health Sciences Authority.

In May, Dr Koh was selected to be on the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Biological Standardisation.

Individuals on the panel have to be invited by WHO to apply, and are well recognised in their respective scientific fields. Eminent names on the panel include the current president of the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut in Germany, which is the country’s federal agency, medical regulatory body and research institution for vaccines and biomedicine.

The WHO panel provides detailed recommendations and guidelines for the manufacturing, licensing and standardisation of biological products, which include blood, antibodies, vaccines and, increasingly, cell-based therapeutics.

The recommendations and advice are passed on to the executive board of the World Health Assembly, which is the decision-making body of WHO.

Dr Koh’s role had to be endorsed by the British government and was a direct appointment by the director-general of WHO.

His appointment as a panel expert will last for a term of four years.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Dr Koh shared his thoughts about the importance of regulation: “We are well aware that there is a very lucrative worldwide market peddling unproven stem cell treatments, where side effects are often unknown, and such unregulated practice can result in serious harm.

“This is already happening. People are claiming that you can use stem cells to treat things like ageing, and even very serious conditions like strokes, without any evidence.”

With many medications now taking the form of biologics – a drug product derived from biological sources such as cells – the next wave of treatment would be the utilisation of these cells for the treatment of a wide range of diseases, Dr Koh said.