Cancer, called the big ‘C’, is often associated with death and despair. Cancer Research Malaysia (CRM), the first independent, non-profit cancer research organisation funded and staffed by Malaysians and conducting Malaysian-specific cancer research, aims to reserve the stigma and fear of cancer.
“Our logo, which is a reversed, lowercase ‘c’, captures the essence of CRM, which is to reverse the grips of cancer in our lives through impactful research,” says CRM’s founder and CEO Prof Teo Soo-Hwang.
According to Teo, CRM is focused on three areas:
- Developing new cures for head and neck cancers
Asians make up about 70 percent of oral cancer incidence worldwide and the highest rates of nasopharyngeal cancer are found in Southern China and Southeast Asia. “These cancers are almost unheard of in the West, where the majority of research takes place. In CRM, we are trying to find new ways of treating these types of cancer more effectively, such as through immunotherapy which boosts the patient’s immune system,” she says.
- Asian genetics
“Asians are different than Caucasians in terms of the diseases they get and how they respond to treatment. Even though Asians make up three billion of the eight billion people living on earth, in the majority of genetic studies done, only 5% of the subjects were Asians.
“And when it comes to breast cancer, all women are told that they have 1 in 19 chance of getting it, which is incorrect. The fact is, depending on genetics, some women have 60% chance while some have 20% chance; some should get screened in their twenties while some have risk that are so low that they would not benefit from screening. As a result, we don’t screen the right women,” Teo explains.
To solve this problem, CRM is currently working on the Malaysia Breast Cancer genetic (MyBrCa) study to characterise rare variants and genetic loci associated with risk to breast cancer among Asian. Such analyses will lead to unique insights into the genetic predisposition of Asian breast cancer and provide opportunities for the development of risk stratified approaches to screening and development of targeted therapy.
- Bringing cure and services to patients throughout Malaysia
“A main part of CRM is to push the frontiers of technology and make sure that it is available to Malaysians throughout the country,” Teo says.
“We understand that cancer survivorship can be improved if better services are provided especially to poorer communities.
“Previously, genetic counselling was only offered in CRM, Hospital Kuala Lumpur and hospitals of Universiti Malaya and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. We have launched a nationwide study called MaGiC (Mainstreaming Genetic Counselling for Genetic Testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in Ovarian Cancer Patients in Malaysia), and expanded the counselling services to 25 government and private hospitals all over Malaysia,” she explains.
CRM has also set up the Patient Nagivation Programme since 2014 to provide follow-up support for poor patients to make sure they can access the services and treatments they need.
Upholding Good Governance
CRM believes in good governance to ensure that the grants and donations they received are wisely spent and they achieve it through three ways:
- Internationally accredited peer-reviewed scientific programmes
- Collaboration with the best scientists in the world, including researchers in Cambridge and South Hampton, to ensure that programmes undertaken are impactful.
- Having tight a governance framework and a board of independent trustee to ensure all systems are in place.
“For the past 15 Years, we are proud to say that 95% of our funding has gone to cancer research. This is a very important aspect of who we are,” Teo says.