kopi-C with DISA’s CEO: Visioning Opportunities and Growth in Regional Eye Care Markets

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By Feng Zengkun • 08 May 2024 • 0 min read

DISA, under CEO Eddie Chng, leverages smart visual tests and AI to meet the rising demand for eye care in aging populations, driven by medical advancements.

DISA CEO Eddie Chng.jpg

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With ageing populations’ greater need for eye care and medical advances that scan retinas to detect diseases, digital solutions firm DISA is harnessing these opportunities with smart visual test devices and artificial intelligence (AI). Its CEO Eddie Chng shares more.

DISA’s Chief Executive Officer Eddie Chng has a new growth vision for his digital solutions company. Its subsidiary, Digital Life Line, has recently completed the first trial deployment of its Automated Visual Acuity Test (“AVAT”) device in a major public hospital in Singapore, with ongoing trials with other public and private eye clinics across Singapore to further expand its market presence. 

Globally, DISA’s AVAT device is one of the first devices that can automate ophthalmology screening, which is essential for eye care related diseases.

Visual acuity tests – where patients read letters on a chart at a distance – are common and essential in eye clinics, but usually require trained staff and at least six metres between the person and chart. With the AVAT device, which fits on a desk half the size of an office table, patients can just look into it to see characters and press a keypad accordingly to gauge their eyesight, improving accessibility and convenience as well as enhanced diagnostic accuracy.

disa medtech for myopia and eye diseases
Source: DISA Annual Report 2023

Chng says: “With the ageing population in Singapore and other regional countries, vision tests will be a big part of healthcare. With our devices, visual testing can be self-conducted or done with only a little help from trained operators. These innovations have great promise for both healthcare and our business.”

“By deploying our AVAT devices, hospitals and eye specialist centres can scale up testing with minimal costs, space and manpower. In addition, we can improve accessibility in communities where people can get eye screenings more regularly and conveniently in their neighbourhood optical shops.” 

The role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and deep learning models is attracting significant global interest in the field of ophthalmology in recent years as it offers potential for recognising signs of medical conditions in retinal images, which have been linked to non-eye-related diseases like kidney and heart conditions.

Since such conditions may not exhibit symptoms in the early stages, AI-empowered retinal imaging solutions can play a role in the early detection and management of multiple health conditions, further cementing its value in community screening efforts.

Based on a proprietary hardware-agnostic, deep learning algorithm on various eye pathologies, Digital Life Line’s AI-based retinal imaging solution, AI-VI, also has the ability to integrate additional AI-tools to detect other age-related medical conditions.

Chng adds, “Given the non-invasive and affordable nature of retinal imaging, we believe that it will become an important health screen tool in the near future and we aim to harness such opportunities with the expanding capabilities of AI-based retinal imaging solution.”

deployment of AVAT in Singapore
As of April 2024, the AVAT device has been successfully deployed in Singapore. Image source: DISA

An eye on overseas expansions 

With a clear commercialisation strategy based on a “Hardware-as-a-Service” and “Software-as-a-Service” business model, DISA has also fielded growing interest in the AVAT device from overseas eye clinics, underlining the potential for widespread adoption in the Asia-Pacific. 

Vietnam has been identified as a key target market because of the country’s ageing population of nearly 100 million people and rising demand for eye care that has been underserved by limited resources. 

To accelerate its growth plans in this area, DISA has signed a memorandum of understanding with local eye care specialist Alina Vision to install the AVAT device, and plans to expand the range for testing solutions by adding retina scans and analysis powered by AI. Chng says: “The image of your retina can reveal a lot about one’s health, hence  ophthalmologists can do more than just ophthalmology with our AVAT and AI-based retinal imaging solution. This benefits their practice, because they can offer more services and have new streams of income without the need for significant resources or investments.”

The firm is in talks with Vietnam’s top hospitals, and will look into entering other regional markets in accordance to their growth plans. He adds that most hospitals do not have ophthalmologists on site. “However, with the advent of AI and retina imaging, not to mention ageing populations, there is a very high possibility that many of them will want to acquire such capabilities, to create or expand their own range of ophthalmology services.”

“For hospitals and specialist eye clinics, it’s also about optimising economic value. They can set aside the space that’s needed for the conventional vision tests, or they can have a smaller table and our equipment on top of it for people to do their tests. I think that for many hospitals, they will want to create as much value as they can out of their limited healthcare space.”

disa avat device
Source: DISA

Lessons from a life of entrepreneurship

For Chng, the timely foray into eye care is the latest considered move in a career that has had many of them. A serial entrepreneur who worked in Hong Kong and China, his journey with DISA began when he invested in, and was appointed to run a SGX-listed company that eventually renamed DISA, short for digital safety, and pivoted to the growing digital security industry.

DISA’s products include a digital solution that prevents theft by making electronic devices non-functional until activated by a code provided at point of purchase. It counts an American retail giant as a client, among others.

Chng says that the willingness to try new things is crucial to making a mark in any sector. He explains: “People tend to be more curious and daring when they’re young, and become less so as they get older. But you can’t make it big if you don’t take risks, so maintaining the status quo shouldn’t be an option. I’ve made mistakes, but you pick yourself up and keep going.”

He also highlights the importance of choosing and retaining the right talent. “Just look at me. I’m not a doctor by training, but I can hire people with the expertise I need. As management, you rely on your people. That’s why you must ensure you have the right ones. I’ve learned that over the years in my many businesses.”

Looking ahead, he points to the need for financial prudence. While firms have had access to cheaper funding in the past 10 to 15 years because of low interest rates, that is no longer the case, he says. 

“Make sure you leave yourself enough of a financial runway so that you have options. If you’re careful in managing your capital, overheads and spending, you have more choices, including to capitalise on opportunities. Apart from that, be laser-focused on the industry and markets that you want to make progress in, and you will give yourself the best chance of success.”

About DISA Limited

DISA Limited, is a publicly traded company on the SGX Catalist. Together with its subsidiaries, the Group focuses on pioneering and adopting the latest technology innovations to enhance outcomes, reduce costs, improve efficiencies within the healthcare and consumer industry.

Bringing scaled solutions that thrive in a changing world, DISA leverages on its strong in-house R&D capabilities to continuously pursue new innovations and disruptive technology (such as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, etc.) for the digitalisation of product and services that optimises efficiency and quality standards in its targeted markets.

The company’s website is at www.disa.sg

About kopi-C: the Company brew

kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

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