A joint venture between Icon Cancer Centre and Sunsuria Healthcare is set to expand cancer clinical trials in Malaysia.
Global cancer care provider Icon Group, which operates the largest private cancer clinical trials programme in Australia, is looking to expand its trials, in addition to providing patient-centric cancer care services, to Malaysia via its partnership with Sunsuria Healthcare, a subsidiary of publicly listed property developer, Sunsuria Berhad.
“We will expand this clinical trials expertise into Malaysia, providing Malaysian cancer patients with access to new and emerging treatment options,” Serena Wee, chief executive officer of Icon Asean and Hong Kong, said at the joint venture signing event here last Thursday.
“Our trials cover a wide range of tumour types and haematological conditions. We have garnered a number of research milestones, which have actively contributed to elevating the standards of cancer care globally.
“One very good example is that we carried out the world’s largest prostate cancer trial of its kind, which led to new standards of care for men with advanced prostate cancer.”
Wee held that the newly established joint-venture entity, Icon Sunsuria Sdn Bhd, will be studying Malaysia’s cancer landscape before deciding which trials to conduct.
“Icon, for example in Singapore and Australia, we’re definitely involved in trials. I think rather than at this point say, ‘We are going to bring X,Y, Z trials in’, it is to try to understand what are the cancer types that are important to Malaysia; what are the interests of researchers here in Malaysia.
“Looking at it as a whole, then we will make our decisions as to what are the best trials to bring, but usually as a start, usually just to identify what are the common cancers here in Malaysia.”
Wee revealed that Icon is keen on conducting theranostic trials and bringing radiation therapy to Malaysia. The Icon CEO said that she has spoken to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa on the matter and on public-private partnerships.
“If we, as the private sector, can work very closely with the public sector to advance care in the public sector, I think that is where we can serve the community at large.”
“Theranostics” is a word coined out of two terms: therapeutics and diagnostics. It is described as the one-two punch against cancer and involves finding cancer cells anywhere in the body and delivering targeted radiation to kill those cells.
Positron emission tomography (PET) is used to locate the cancer, followed by an infusion of medicine to destroy it. Because of its precision, theranostics reduce the risk of harming nearby healthy tissues.
Sunsuria Healthcare chief executive officer Audrey Ooi said Icon Sunsuria aligns itself with Malaysia’s National Strategic Plan for Cancer Control Programme 2021-2025 (NSPCCP), which addresses cancer prevention and control from a holistic viewpoint that spans across primary prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.
“Aligning with Malaysia’s National Cancer Control programme, we are eager to explore the possibilities of future initiatives as means to support the Ministry of Health’s effort in reducing the burden of cancer via our cancer centres as well as chemotherapy. Together, we work towards narrowing the gap of improving access to cancer care,” said Ooi at the event.
According to Ooi, Icon Sunsuria also intends to work closely with local hospital operators, doctors, and specialists to establish specialised cancer care centres that will be equipped with personalised services and access to the latest medical advancements and therapies.
The newly established joint venture will focus on value addition and complementing existing hospitals in a collaborative model that benefits patients and health care providers.
“One very important element for us is always looking into cities with needs. Always looking at cities and partners that have this kind of gaps [and] would like to work hand in hand with us.
“Obviously, we are looking at setting up a series of strong cancer networks across Malaysia. We do have key cities and we do have centres pipelining, and we are also not just looking at first-tier cities; we are actually very open. We are fortunate that our partners, Icon, that they are aligning the vision in not just looking at key cities in urban areas. We have an active conversation engaging with secondary cities and even across the sea to the other parts of Malaysia,” said Ooi.
Dr Zaliha, who witnessed the signing ceremony, congratulated the two companies, describing the venture as complementary to the MOH’s own action plan for battling cancer.
“In addition to improving the health of cancer survivors from diagnosis to treatment, we welcome future-facing solutions that align with our strategic goals of addressing the country’s cancer research needs and strengthening our medical talent pool,” said Dr Zaliha in her address.
The health minister said that cancer survival in Malaysia varies greatly by type. Drawing information from the Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival, the minister held that thyroid cancer patients have a relatively high survival rate of 82.3 per cent, while survival rates for cancers in lung, trachea and bronchus stood at just 11 per cent.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysia saw an estimated 48,639 new cases of cancer in 2020, with this number expected to double by 2040. This is compounded by the country’s cancer survival rates, with research suggesting that for every five newly diagnosed cases, there were three deaths from cancer within the same period.
Dr Zaliha held that one cannot effectively tackle cancer without looking at the health care system in a holistic light.
“Within the realm of cancer, private sector involvement is pivotal, particularly in the context of advancing cancer care and research as well as strengthening the local talent base. The NSPCCP places a significant emphasis on harnessing the private sector’s resources and expertise in cancer therapy development, with the aim of bolstering cancer management and consolidating research endeavours to enhance patient outcomes.
“At the same time, the MOH greatly welcomes private health care providers to play a role in empowering the health care workforce with access to specialised expertise and resources, such as involvement in clinical trials, joint-research projects, and skills training programmes.”
The signing ceremony also saw the presence of Dr Steven Barraclough, Visiting Senior Government Official of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australian High Commission in Malaysia and Melanie Harris, Trade and Investment Commissioner to Malaysia and Brunei at the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade).