Singapore

Liver cancer drug analysis time shortened with new programme

It can take three to four months to determine which drugs are most effective in treating a liver cancer patient.

Several Singapore research institutions, along with South Korea's Samsung Medical Centre, have now come up with a programme that could cut this waiting time to just three or four weeks - which may prove to be a lifesaver for some patients.

The Purpose Programme's Joint Laboratory at Biopolis was launched on Monday to improve the treatment of liver cancer.

It is billed as the world's first patient-specific platform for liver cancer to predict which drugs may work for individual patients.

Liver cancer can be treated through surgery but only 20 per cent of patients are diagnosed early enough for surgery to be an option, researchers say.

Most patients have no symptoms and the cancer is often detected by chance through ultrasound or CT scans for unrelated problems. For advanced or inoperable liver cancers, patients undergo chemotherapy, but it is difficult to identify which drugs to use, doctors say.

Targeted-therapy drugs and the immunotherapy drug nivolumab have been shown to prolong patients' survival.

Professor Pierce Chow, senior consultant of oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore, said: "There is no good therapy for liver cancer. Outcomes for these patients are significantly poorer than for other patients with breast or colon cancer for the same stage of disease."

CHALLENGING

Treating liver cancer is especially challenging as the tumours tend to vary among individuals.

Under the new programme, tumour samples will be taken from a patient and the cells tested against different drugs to see which works best.

The programme will use Samsung Medical Centre's robotic Avatar Platform, which allows hundreds of sets of cells to be screened at the same time, unlike current research processes here.

This allows the most suitable drugs to be identified in three to four weeks. - RACHAEL SEOW

MEDICAL & HEALTH