Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is setting up a $60 million research institute in nanomedicine, making it South-east Asia's first such facility to focus on developing new solutions and improving existing methods of drug delivery to tackle diseases.

The new Nanomedicine Institute@NTU will be helmed by Subbu Venkatraman, chair of NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering. Chad Mirkin from Northwestern University will chair its advisory committee. A renowned nanotechnology expert, Prof Mirkin is also scientific adviser to President Obama.

Prof Venkatraman said the institute will work on 10-12 projects with its initial tranche of funding. The focus will be on four main areas - diabetes, cardiovascular, ophthalmology and skin therapeutics.

While the institute is expected to help create innovative solutions to meet the needs of the global medical community, it will also focus on improving the delivery of existing drugs for greater efficiency.

"While there are current drugs to tackle the diseases of today, they may not be the most effective in their current form," said NTU Provost Freddy Boey, an inventor and nanoscience expert in his own right. "For example, by changing the packaging and delivery of a drug into a nano-sized form, we can prolong the period for which the drug stays in the body, reducing the frequency and amount of drugs needed to treat the affected body part."

Projects already earmarked include a new anti-glaucoma nanomedicine that can be injected twice yearly as opposed to using eye drops daily to control high eye pressure. The drug, developed by Prof Boey and Assoc Prof Tina Wong from the Singapore Eye Research Institute, is encased in millions of nano-sized capsules, which disintegrate over a few months to release the drug.

Another project is the new drug-eluting balloon, used in surgeries to widen clogged arteries, which can release drugs in nano form to prevent plaque from building up again in the arteries.

In a press release yesterday, NTU cited market estimates which value existing nanomedicine products worldwide at US$112 billion last year, with expectations of 10.8 per cent growth per year.

"Through the new institute, NTU and Northwestern scientists, engineers, and medical doctors will collaboratively develop new ways of tracking and treating some of the world's most debilitating diseases," said Prof Mirkin, a visiting professor at NTU.

The new institute will have research facilities at both NTU's Yunnan Garden Campus and its Novena Campus.

While the new infrastructure will be ready only at the end of 2015, work on the projects will start by the beginning of next year.