CRMY Milestones and Achievements in 2022
In a blink of an eye, we are in 2023. For the past few years, the world was hit with COVID-19 and the impact was similar, if not worse, than the Spanish flu (1918 – 1920). Most of us lived in uncertainty, with a number of questions hanging over our heads: “when we can live our normal lives again?”, “will I or my loved ones contract the virus?”, “can we survive this pandemic?”, “am I going to be laid off?” and so on. The medical frontliners on the other hand worked around the clock to give their best, even though no one had any experience dealing with this new virus.
Covid-19 certainly taught us a lot, especially on how vital science and research is now, more than ever. Science is how we could create vaccines, treatments, test kits, and pretty much everything to help humanity resume their normal lives. Science is our “insurance” to ensure that humanity can survive future pandemic.
As we return back to life before Covid, so too should we return our focus to the big C. More people have died of cancer in the past few years than they have of covid. Just like science and research has delivered solutions to covid, science and research is giving patients the latest and best possible treatments, giving to them more time with their loved ones.
Despite nearly two years in lockdown (2020 and 2021) and limited access to the lab, our scientists had one goal, that is to reverse the big ‘C’.
Here are some advances Cancer Research Malaysia has made in 2022:
ENABLING PRECISION MEDICINE FOR ASIAN BREAST CANCER PATIENTS
Did you know that 1 in 25 breast cancer patients developed breast cancer because of a gene they inherited from their mother or father, and knowing their status could help patients access lifesaving prevention and treatment? Unfortunately, genetic testing is often expensive and it isn’t widely available in Malaysia, and as a result, few women access such tests. Tools have been developed that help European women work out whether genetic testing is useful for them, but these tools don’t work effectively in Asians (nearly 80% accuracy in Europeans and only 21% accuracy in Asians). CRMY developed the Asian Risk Calculator (ARiCa) – a tool that accurately helps Asian women work out whether genetic testing may be useful for them, and this tool will lay the foundation of ensuring that Precision Medicine isn’t just for Europeans and Americans, but also for Asians!
In 2022, we worked in partnership with 4 hospitals and are rolling out ARiCa in these hospitals – hopefully, in the coming years, ARiCa can be available in all hospitals in Malaysia and we can all look forward to a day when access to lifesaving genetics will no longer be a problem!
Did you know that all women are recommended to receive mammograms every 2 years from the ages of 50 to 74 years old (ie 12 mammograms on average in their lifetime), but only 1 in 20 Malaysian women will develop breast cancer? This means that we have to screen many many women in order to detect cancers at an early stage: making screening expensive and difficult to roll out.
Imagine a future where women only have to go for screening if they are at high risk of the disease – until recently, this has not been possible because there is no tool that can accurately predict risk of breast cancer. Tools called “polygenic risk scores”, or better known as genetic risk scores, is a calculation used to measure your disease risk due to your genes, but these tools were only developed for European women. CRMY developed the Asian polygenic risk score and showed that because Asians have a lower risk of breast cancer, perhaps only 1 in 3 women need to attend mammography screening and the Asian PRS can accurately help women decide if screening is right for them.
Watch this space as we improve the accuracy of the tool further, and start to roll it out to help women make decisions about the screening that is right for them…
ENABLING PRECISION TREATMENT FOR ASIAN CANCER PATIENTS
Did you know that cancer treatment is now so advanced, doctors treat patients not just according to the type of cancer that they have, but by the genes that are altered in the cancers? In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, CRMY, UM and NUH launched our first clinical trial testing whether a gene that is altered in 60% of Asians (and only 15% of Europeans and <5% of Africans) can identify breast cancer patients who are more likely to respond to a new type of immunotherapy. This is the first trial globally that will address a common gene variant in Asians as a prediction of treatment effectiveness, and paves the way for more accurate precision medicine for patients in the future!
In 2022, we launched our second precision medicine trial – this time, using a genetic test that helps identify tumors that are exquisitely sensitive to a new drug called PARP inhibitors, and followed this closely with our third precision medicine trial – using immunotherapy in the treatment of head and neck cancers.
Watch this space as we bring forward more precision treatments in Asians!
USING A.I. AND DIGITAL HEALTH TO ENABLE EARLY DETECTION OF ORAL CANCER
Did you know that artificial intelligence is now increasingly being used in medical imaging, to improve the accuracy of diagnosing disease? But such technology is only possible with a large collection of images and the barrier for cancers common in Asians is that such databases oftentimes just simply don’t exist.
CRMY has worked with a network of collaborators in 9 countries to develop a power bank of images – our collection of images of clinically labelled oral lesions, that will power the AI algorithms for early detection of high-risk oral lesions. It will come as no surprise that during the pandemic, many patients missed their medical appointments because of the fear of contracting Covid19. CRMY’s digital health solution came in really handy!
MeMoSA® is a teleconsultation web application developed by our Digital Health team to provide continuous care to patients in Malaysia despite the pandemic restrictions that changed healthcare management, not only in Malaysia, but all around the world. In order to curb infection rates, most forms of non-essential healthcare were suspended, and this included oral cancer. Our MeMoSA app allowed patients to securely upload images of their oral lesions, ask or answer routine clinical questions and it gives access to specialists to review this data remotely, thus ensuring that no patients were left behind during the pandemic.
LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND
Did you know that during the pandemic, cancer patients experienced challenges in getting lifesaving surgery and oncology treatment, and that this was worse for low-income patients? Thankfully, through a partnership patient navigation programme between CRMY and the Ministry of Health, we were able to provide continuous support and lifesaving treatment to low-income patients, navigating them through the financial and logistic hardships to access treatment.
Watch this space as we expand from 4 patient navigation centres (Pink Ribbon Centre) today, to hopefully a centre in every state in the near future!
Our scientists have also been recognised internationally for their involvement in science and research:
Professor Dr Cheong Sok Ching, Deputy Chief Scientific Officer was awarded the 2022 TWAS Medal from The World Academy. This award is given to scientists from developing countries to recognise their involvement and contribution to scientific knowledge in the field of science and technology to sustainable development.
The list of awards and accolades doesn’t stop here for Professor Dr Cheong Sok Ching, who won the prestigious ASEAN-U. S Science Prize For Women 2022 with the theme, Artificial Intelligence In Health and Safety. This award acknowledges the role of female scientists who have contributed their work to improve society in sustainable ways and stood as a mentor for other women in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Last but not least, Dr.Annie Chai won the ASEAN-ROK Award for Excellence in Science, Technology, and Innovation 2022 – Next ASEAN Innovator, an award given to encourage young scientists to participate in research in science, technology, and innovation. Dr Annie was also selected to participate in the ASEAN-ROK STI Training Programme in South Korea.
A MOU between Cancer Research Malaysia (CRMY) and the Malaysia Genome and Vaccine Institute (MGVI) was signed. This MOU marks to expand CRMY’s vaccine initiative beyond head and neck cancer to other cancers including nasopharyngeal, lung and liver cancers.
As part of our Community Outreach effort to improve survival for low-income breast cancer patients via our Pink Ribbon Centre, we have also renewed our partnership with Hospital Umum Sarawak in Kuching and Hospital Queen Elizabeth 2 in Kota Kinabalu.
MARATHON OF HOPE
Finally, to end the year with a bang, CRMY brought back the Terry Fox Run (42nd Anniversary) and for the first time in Malaysia, Darrell Fox, Terry’s younger brother was here to kick off the run. Terry Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer, and he was determined to raise awareness on the importance of cancer research, which is only possible if money and funding are available to drive research in this area. Check out our Terry Fox Run 2022 photo album.
We at Cancer Research Malaysia would like to thank each and every supporter, donor, and volunteer, in believing in our mission to one day reverse the big ‘C’.
Thank you from the Cancer Research Malaysia family.
Imagine a future, where we could have treatments which are better for us because we are uniquely Asians. If we don’t do this type of research for us, who will?
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