Professor Fortunato Ciardiello, President, European Society for Medical Oncology

Professor Josep Tabernero, President-Elect, European Society for Medical Oncology

Dr Keith H. McGregor, Chief Executive Officer, European Society for Medical Oncology

Dr Ravindran Kanesvaran, President, Singapore Society of Oncology

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good morning to all of you.

1. It is my pleasure to join you this morning at the opening ceremony of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Asia Congress 2016. First, let me extend a warm welcome to all participants, particularly our overseas delegates. We are pleased to host this meeting that brings researchers and healthcare professionals from the region and beyond.

Increasing burden and prevalence of cancer in Asia

2. Cancer, one of the leading causes of mortality, continues to be a serious health concern all over the world. In 2013, there were 14.9 million incident cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths1 worldwide. In Asia, the burden of cancer is projected to increase significantly in the next decade1 due to our ageing and growing populations, and other lifestyle factors such as tobacco use and increasing rates of obesity. Locally, cancer remains the top cause of mortality, accounting for three out of every ten deaths. In 2010, cancers were responsible for almost 20 percent of the total disease and injury burden2. Hence, it is important for us to identify ways to tackle this significant public health challenge.

Importance of prevention and early detection in reducing cancer prevalence

3. The first step is to go upstream and promote a healthy lifestyle, so as to reduce the risk factors for cancer. Leading an active lifestyle, having a balanced diet, reducing alcohol consumption and not smoking can contribute to reducing our risk of cancer. Healthcare professionals can play an important role in raising public awareness of risk factors and what can be done to mitigate such risks. For instance, the World Health Organization has indicated that advice from healthcare professionals can bring about a 2 to 6 percent increase in quitting rate among patients who smoke3.

4. Preventive strategies to promote healthy living can also contribute to reducing cancer prevalence. Our national strategy for tobacco control comprises a comprehensive suite of strategies to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in Singapore, such as public education, provision of smoking cessation services, legislative measures as well as collaboration and capacity building of key partners in the community.

5. Studies have also linked the lack of physical activity to increased risk for colon, breast and endometrial cancer. Reducing body weight through increased activity may also reduce the risk for several other cancers associated with obesity. We have thus implemented various nationwide initiatives to encourage Singaporeans to 'move more, sit less', such as the Health Promotion Board (HPB)'s National Steps Challenge, which is the world's first population-level pedometer-based physical activity initiative.

6. Early detection, follow up and treatment of cancer can also help to increase the chances of survival and lower the risk of potential complications. Under HPB's Screen for Life initiative, Singaporeans have access to subsidised breast, colorectal and cervical cancer screening services at participating Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS)-GP clinics as well as Breast Screen Singapore and Cervical Screen Singapore centres. We hope to encourage more Singaporeans to attend evidence-based screening to facilitate detection and treatment at the early stages of cancer, minimise the risk of possible complications and maximise their chances of recovery.

Research as a key driver in developing better diagnoses and therapies for cancer

7. Beyond prevention and early detection, we need to better understand the pathology of cancer, and develop better diagnoses and therapies for the disease. This is where research serves as a key driver in pushing the frontiers of cancer treatment. Singapore has invested heavily in biomedical sciences over the years, particularly in translational and clinical research, and this will continue. Under the Health & Biomedical Sciences domain in the national Research Innovation and Enterprise Plan 2020 (RIE2020), cancer has been identified as one of the five therapeutic areas of research focus for Singapore.

8. Singapore has invested over $200 million in cancer research over the past decade, with promising results. Last year, Singapore researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) developed a new cancer drug that targets cancers of the colon, stomach and pancreas. The compound, which targets proteins that cause excessive cell growth, has entered clinical trials and is the first publicly funded cancer drug developed from scratch in Singapore to be tested on patients.

9. The National Medical Research Council, under Singapore's Ministry of Health, has also granted a number of Translational and Clinical Research (TCR) flagship grants for research in gastric cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer and lymphoma, to name a few. Earlier this year, Prof Pierce Chow from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) was awarded a $7.5 million TCR grant to work on creating customised therapies for individual liver cancer patients within the next five years. Prof Chow will lead a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and scientists from several institutions to study 100 Hepatocellular Carcinoma patient samples from five cancer centres in Southeast Asia. This is an important study for our region as more than 80 percent of liver cancer cases are found in the Asia-Pacific and yet, current treatments for patients here are still limited4.

Role of partnerships in spurring research and its translation

10. Partnership with industry is instrumental in translating research into health and economic outcomes. We set up the National Health Innovation Centre (NHIC) in 2014 to provide funding and strategic guidance to expedite translation of healthcare innovation towards market-ready products to improve healthcare delivery and patient care. Supported by NHIC, a research team led by Prof Wilder-Smith from the National University Health System (NUHS) has developed a prototype system to enable four-limb cooling to combat the side effects of peripheral nerve damage in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The team is now collaborating with a UK-based company to incorporate its technology into the company's cooling system and further translation of this research with industry support is expected in the near future. I am excited to see more tie-ups between oncologists and industry partners to deliver innovations in cancer treatment to patients.

11. To address the challenges presented by the complexity of cancer, the development of regional and international research networks is increasingly important to catalyse scientific communication and collaboration. Platforms such as the ESMO Asia Congress are therefore essential in providing an open platform to facilitate research collaboration. I am indeed happy to note the close collaboration between ESMO and the Singapore Society of Oncology (SSO) which has culminated with the opening of the first ESMO office in Asia. The exchange of ideas and knowledge between ESMO and SSO will enrich both parties, and pave the way for future collaborations and advances in medical oncology.

Conclusion

12. By building capabilities and strengthening our partnerships, we can do much more to improve patient care and treatment, especially for the Asian population. I note that this conference has attracted over 2,000 participants. Let me congratulate ESMO and SSO for organising this successful congress and in closing, I wish all of you a fruitful and stimulating congress ahead.

13. Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Health, Singapore