In a bold effort to extend its global reach, Johns Hopkins Medicine plans to take its successful model of educating doctors, doing research and taking care of patients to Singapore.
The medical institution intends to create a "mini-Hopkins," an enterprise that would give Hopkins a foothold in Southeast Asia at a time of increasing competition in the U.S. health care industry. Hopkins physicians would treat patients, provide advanced training for physicians and conduct research in nearby labs.
Hopkins Medicine, which includes the institution's faculty and facilities, would get millions of research dollars, much of it from the government of Singapore. It would also be able to study a large pool of people there, many of whom suffer from diseases uncommon in the United States. For its part, Singapore wins a prestigious medical partner that will elevate the skills of local physicians and build the area's biomedical industry.
"We're signing a win-win agreement," said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He was in Singapore yesterday for a ceremony announcing the plan.
William R. Brody, president of the Johns Hopkins University, who was also in Singapore, said he believes that the partnership will "open untold opportunities to advance the world's understanding of many illnesses."
While Hopkins and other academic medical centers have had relationships with institutions around the globe for decades, Hopkins officials believe that this effort is the most comprehensive. Economists see it as a smart, necessary move.
"When the market you're operating in becomes over-competitive and saturated with providers, then you look toward a larger market. It's a basic business principle," said Dr. Alan Hillman, a physician and economist who heads the Center for Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He said other academic institutions, as well as health care organizations such as insurance companies, are starting to go international. "This is an extremely novel undertaking."
But Hopkins officials say the partnership was born more from its historic tradition.
"The biggest reason for Hopkins to do this is to be able to be true to its mission of research and discovery," said Steven Thompson, interim CEO of the new corporation, called Johns Hopkins Singapore.
"We have done that over the years from Baltimore, but this would really create an anchor spot to be able to do that same thing in a more meaningful, more dramatic way."
As part of the agreement, the Singapore government will give the new company a five-year research grant, as well as space in a facility for that research. Dollar amounts are still being negotiated. Johns Hopkins Singapore will lease an empty, 36-bed wing at the nearby National University Hospital.
Eventually, Thompson said between 3,000 to 5,000 oncology patients a year will be treated, and 30 to 40 major research projects undertaken. The emphasis will be on studying the genetic underpinnings of diseases prevalent in Southeast Asia and on new drugs and other treatments for those conditions. The incidence of liver cancer and nasopharyngeal cancer, for instance, is low in the United States, but is very high in Southeast Asia.
Thompson envisions a total of about 30 Hopkins-affiliated physicians and researchers working in Singapore. He expects to recruit some from Baltimore for one- to three-year stints, as well as other doctors who may have trained at Hopkins, and `f physicians in Singapore or other places in Asia who meet Hopkins standards. Singapore already has its own medical schools, so Johns Hopkins Singapore would focus on providing continuing medical education for physicians and advanced training for specialists.
At some point, smaller clinics in outlying areas may be developed to act as feeders for the hospital and outpatient clinic in Singapore. Plans also call for establishing partnerships with regional universities, insurance companies and referring physician networks in Asia. Some of the funding for research may come from multinational pharmaceutical companies that are also setting up shop in Singapore. Ultimately, the entire project would be under the supervision of Hopkins officials in Baltimore.
"That connection, that link is the most vital thing," Thompson said. "We're not diluting what we're doing [in Baltimore]. We're sort of creating a whole new piece."
The agreement with the government of Singapore is still subject to final negotiations and approval by the Johns Hopkins trustees. But the institution has already undertaken a strategic initiative in the last three years to expand its definition of community from East Baltimore to the world.