Lynk Biotech: Open Innovation Project Management

By the SMU Corporate Communications team

Lynk, one of the first biotech firms to be set-up in Singapore in 2000, was born out of a passion of its founder, Dr Lee Chee Wee, to develop scientifically researched products. The idea was to discover cancer drugs using a protein knockout technology that he and his team had developed. However, the firm soon ran out of its seed funding, and also realised that a cancer related drug discovery could take between 10 to 20 years to progress from the lab to the market, without any guarantee of success. Pivoting its business model soon after, Lynk started working on products that could be brought more quickly from the lab to the market, experimenting with the launch of a hair serum in 2002 with some success. But soon the firm pivoted its business again, as it realised that it would need additional capacity and expertise to market the hair product.

With some new financial impetus, Lynk developed a proprietary transdermal delivery technology that enabled the delivery of water-soluble molecules into the body through the skin rather than orally. The technology enabled active ingredients to be well absorbed into the skin and to be ‘parked’ within the skin layers to exert their effects in a localised and long-lasting manner. This was different from the delivery method of oral drugs and potentially more beneficial for patients.

The first product launched by Lynk using this technology was a topical cream called TGC (transdermal glucosamine cream) in 2003, with a high concentration of water-soluble compound glucosamine (10% glucosamine sulphate). This product was ideal for those suffering from osteoarthritis, as it helped reduce inflammation of the joints with regular application, thereby minimising and controlling the pain symptoms from the condition.

Instead of conducting an entire clinical trial, Lynk approached Temasek Polytechnic (TP) to analyse patient samples. The scientific goal of the trials was to confirm the presence of glucosamine in the synovial fluid (inside the knee joint), delivered trans-dermally using the company’s technology. Lynk saved further costs by collaborating with Dr Ting Choon Meng from T&T Family Health Clinic and Surgery, who agreed to do the synovial fluid extraction for analysis free of charge. Dr Ting was a pioneer in arthrocentesis – the extraction of synovial fluid from the knee.

“The unique thing about our partnership was that as a clinic, we have the facilities here, so Lynk did not have to collaborate with any other third-party facility providers,” said Dr Ting. “We had a ready testbed for the technology; going to the hospital for the tests would have been a long process. If you were to go to a hospital, and you want to test on 200 patients, it would take you a year to be enrolled and do the tests. We finished the tests in three to four months.”

The research team was amazed by the positive findings from the trials. Patients in the intervention group who had applied the cream had significantly higher levels of glucosamine in their synovial fluid than those in the control group who did not use the medication. This reinforced their determination to publish the results in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Following the approval from the Health Science Authority (HSA) and Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the project, Lynk and its open innovation partners performed the clinical trials and data analysis. Their hard work paid off and their research paper was accepted and published in the Journal of Biosciences and Medicines. The results of the research proved without a doubt that Lynk’s transdermal platform technology was able to deliver glucosamine straight into the synovial fluid of the patients in noticeable amounts.

Despite tight budget constraints, Lynk continued to keep its commitment to scientific research, and only tried to expand in countries where it could do a full cycle of clinical trials. This approach was traditionally different from that of other SMEs in the sector, which preferred to focus on bringing a product to market quickly, rather than focusing on clinical trials. Towards the end of 2019, Lynk was approached by Singaporean research organisation, A*Star, to collaborate on formulating a new cosmetic product using its transdermal technology in a joint innovation project.

Dr Boon Tiong (David) Tan, Executive Director of Lynk Biotechnologies, was brimming with excitement at the prospect. Foremost on his mind were the questions of whether partnering with research/educational organisations was the right strategy for the company moving forward. Given the constraints, how could the company grow internationally?

Written by Pascale Crama, SMU Professor of Operations Management; Lipika Bhattacharya, Assistant Director at the Centre for Management Practice (CMP) at SMU; as well as Lim Chon Phung and Cintia Kulzer Sacilotto who are both Research Fellows at SMU; this case study examines Open Innovation (OI) practices used in SMEs and the challenges faced by SMEs in conducting research and bringing a product to market using OI methodologies. The case also analyses the various collaboration challenges faced by small enterprises and the constraints that act as a barrier towards monetising innovation in the market for such firms.

To read the case in full, please visit the CMP website by clicking here.