Close to two years since the United States-based, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, started its facility in Chennai, the 140-year-old organisation, is looking to take the relationship forward at educational, and research levels, including driving discussions on early drug development.

 “Stepping outside the US for the first time in our (over) 137-year history, was a significant change. Learning laws, regulations, healthcare, and cultural outlooks, in a new country was new for us,” Dr Mrinal Gounder, Sarcoma oncologist, and Early drug development specialist at MSK told businessline, of their global efforts in cancer care. “We need to learn from, and connect with oncology communities worldwide. This experience has taught us a lot,” said Gounder, who is also MSK Physician Ambassador (India, and Asia).

The Centre was to help cancer patients, going to MSK for treatment, and opinions, and streamlining their medical records in India, among other things, has ensured a better experience for patients, and doctors, he said. The effort now is to build on this initiative, in terms of possibly bringing in products, and strengthening educational collaborations, he said, of plans still under wraps.  

In addition to patient care, MSK has been running successful educational programmes, said Gounder. “We hold tumour board meetings every three weeks, with institutions across India. Experts discuss challenging cases, and hundreds attend, including students, faculty, and patient advocacy groups. We’ve collaborated with public institutions like AIIMS, Tata Memorial, CMC Vellore, and Regional Cancer Centers, as well as private groups like Reliance and Apollo hospitals,” he added.  

Choosing India

“Indian patients form one of our largest groups of patients worldwide, alongside China,” he said. “Speaking on behalf of our institution, and the broader oncology drug development community, it’s evident that large nations like India, and China, along with the rest of the world, are notably absent from the global cancer research ecosystem. This represents a significantly missed opportunity to accelerate cancer research, and deepen our understanding of the disease. Currently, most major clinical trials, and drug developments originate from North America, and Europe,” he pointed out.

The primary objective of involving India, extends beyond enhancing patient experiences, he said. “It’s about fostering collaboration among academic institutions, private entities, industry players, and regulatory bodies. This collective effort, aims to identify, and overcome barriers hindering India’s full participation in global oncology research.“ Integrating India into the global research ecosystem, would benefit patients needing life-saving clinical trial drugs, which are currently limited or imported at high costs, he observed.

Collaborative efforts

Gounder said, some of the most thrilling advancements are occurring in early-phase clinical trials, and drug development. “It’s where we can accelerate drug development processes significantly. By actively engaging with India, and many other countries that are open to collaboration, and possess the necessary infrastructure, we can conduct such sophisticated work effectively.”

Pointing out the complexities in addressing cancer, he said, it can only be tackled through collaborative efforts. “We’ve already initiated discussions with academic institutions, and are actively contributing to papers aimed at identifying, and addressing barriers to India’s participation in global research programmes. This requires the involvement of patient advocacy groups, government support, and grassroots initiatives, to create a conducive environment for collaboration, and research advancement,” he pointed out.