6 experts reveal the technologies set to revolutionize cancer care

Technology in cancer care
Technology in cancer care: Low-dose CT cancer screening programmes can help reduce mortality rates.
Image: Pexels.
  • Cancers and other noncommunicable diseases are widely considered significant threats to global health and development.
  • COVID-19 has impacted the capacity of healthcare systems to diagnose and treat patients with cancer.
  • Technology can play a vital role in the fight against cancer.
  • This World Cancer Day we asked leading experts how technological advances will shape and improve the future of cancer care.

In 2019, there were approximately 23.6 million new cancer cases and 10 million cancer deaths globally, which represents a 26.3% increase in new cases and a 20.9% increase in fatalities compared with 2010.

Furthermore, COVID-19 has had devastating effects on patients with cancer, with massive numbers of delayed diagnoses and treatments due to the constraints COVID-19 has put on health systems. As the pandemic normalizes, global communities look to re-prioritize – ensuring quality and equitable access of cancer diagnostics, treatment and care. We believe the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) can address some of the most significant challenges that humanity faces today.

The World Economic Forum is working with partners globally to close the gap in premature death by lung cancer and to leverage new technologies to improve and transform cancer care in India.

To mark World Cancer Day, we asked six global pioneers and thought leaders from the science community, public policy and private sectors to share their visions for the future of cancer.

'A world without fear of cancer'

Bernd Montag, CEO Siemens Healthineers

Whilst it sometimes feels that the “hidden pandemic” called cancer is something we are expected to get used to, we should not accept it. Just as we did with COVID-19, we can join forces to address this ever-increasing global health burden. The pandemic has taught us three lessons:

  • Science matters. The global cancer burden is rising, especially in LMIC. The facts are evident, now we need to prepare for the future. To fight cancer, we need to detect and treat it as early and precisely as possible. Innovations such as low-dose CT enabled national lung cancer screening programmes can help reduce mortality rates.
  • Technology is crucial. With rapidly increasing medical evidence coupled with a decreasing supply of medical experts, digitalization can bridge the gap with patients. We have had good experiences, for example with telemedicine for COVID-19 patients and with AI-based assistants that support doctors in making decisions. These experiences are transferable to the care of cancer patients.
  • Healthcare is a team approach. There are radiologists, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, the medtech and pharma industries, and many others involved in treating cancer patients. Together, we are on the way to eliminating the fear of cancer by turning it into a manageable, chronic illness.

'Accessibility of precision oncology'

Sizhen Wang, Co-founder and CEO, Genetron Health

Precision oncology is the best new weapon to defeat cancer. As a foundation and gateway for precision medicine, genetic sequencing can find changes in the human body through the detection of genetic variations and can guide diagnosis and treatment.

Doctors and patients both need this weapon. They need more stable and reliable medical solutions with simple, standard operating procedures, shorter turnover times, fewer testing samples, and lower treatment costs. As a company that is a pioneer in precision oncology, we believe that technological innovation can meet these developing clinical demands and will bring more benefits to patients through much more precise and accessible medical services in the future.

Innovative Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) methods assist to optimize the full cycle of cancer management. These advanced sequencing technologies not only extend lifespans and improve cure rates for cancer patients through application to early screening; in the field of cancer diagnosis and monitoring they can also assist in the formulation of personalized clinical diagnostics and treatment plans, as well as allow doctors to accurately relocate the follow-up development of cancer patients after the primary treatment. NGS-based platforms also effectively serve the development of cancer drugs’ companion diagnostics (CDx) tests, and studies on new cancer drugs.

With technological innovation, from genomic to clinic, biotech companies like us can help to improve the accessibility of precision oncology in three areas: investing in the R&D of precision oncology technologies; providing diversified medical products and services; and initiating more professional and public educational programmes.

'Adoption of 4IR technologies'

Dr. Palepu Jagannath, Chairman, Department of Surgical Oncology, Lilavati Hospital & Research Centre

Approximately three-quarters of the developing world has inadequate access to standard cancer care. Around 66% of people with cancer in low and middle income economies (LMIC) – compared to less than 50% in high-income countries – die from their disease according to The American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum India has initiated the First Cancer Care (FCC) project with the aim of, “Transforming the quality of cancer care by harnessing emerging technologies” like AI, machine learning and the internet of things. There are currently huge gaps in infrastructure, skilled manpower and financing and the expert group has identified 18 critical interventions for improving the access to cancer care.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

  • Telehealth, i.e. expert consultations, and virtual tumour boards to improve clinical care.
  • AI-based risk profiling and opportunistic screening of common cancers by healthcare workers leading to early diagnosis of oral cavity, breast and cervical cancer.
  • Novel tools for breast cancer screening in the community to complement clinical breast examinations and mammography.
  • Training of non-oncologists and nurses as primary care providers leading to distributed cancer care.
  • Remote processing of biopsies and telepathology to improve cancer diagnosis.
  • AI-based image analysis of chest x-rays to identify lung cancer.
  • Digital health record – mapping the patient journey using smartphones and cloud-based data capture to provide care continuum.

Overall, adoption of 4IR technologies for specific gaps, can improve cancer care. These pilot projects can be scaled up state-wide, nationally and globally.

'Single biggest lever is early detection'

Cyriac Roeding, CEO, Co-Founder, Earli

In a hundred years from now, it will be hard to imagine that back in 2022 we didn’t know whether we had cancer growing somewhere in our bodies or not. That our bodies weren’t automatically scanned for any problems every night while sleeping. That there were no “molecular nanoparticle spies” constantly roaming and monitoring our bodies to send up a flag when they encountered a malignancy. And that patients were even sent home without treatment after lesions were detected in their lungs because no one could tell if the lesion was malignant or benign.

Back to 2022. The world has made major progress in cancer treatment options in the previous decades, from immunotherapies to gene therapy. And yet, the single biggest lever in saving lives lies in early cancer detection. The five-year survival rates for the top five cancers are 4 to 13 times higher at Stage 1 versus Stage 4, depending on the type of cancer.

We must get better at screening and diagnosing earlier. Fortunately, three radical innovations are emerging: liquid biopsies find cancer signals in blood samples; AI analyzes body scans in places where top imaging experts are not available; and synthetic biopsies flip the whole concept of detection on its head. Instead of searching for cancer, the cancer is being forced to reveal, locate and eventually kill itself using synthetic biology.

I am optimistic that in 2122, we will look back at 2022 and say “that is when critical early detection technologies really emerged.”

'More cancer cures are on the horizon'

Dr Sheng Ding, Dean and Bayer Distinguished Professor, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tsinghua University

We are more hopeful than ever that many cancers can be cured or well managed in the coming decade. Improved understanding of various cancers is happening at unprecedented speed, resolution, and scale. Powered by new technology developments, such as single cell profiling by sequencing to characterize cancer heterogenicity, precision genome editing by CRISPR to identify and manipulate cancer casual genes, and ever-increasing scale cancer genomics. Those efforts have been revealing new targets, mechanisms, and approaches for better diagnosing cancer earlier, developing novel cancer therapeutics, and ultimately preventing cancer.

With those scientific advances, drug discovery and development for cancer have also entered into new realms. For example, by harnessing and enhancing our immune system, immunotherapy using conventional small molecule or antibody drugs and/or multiplex engineered cells has begun to deliver curative treatment for cancer, and many of the next-generation immunotherapies are coming to new readouts and fruition. AI is another area to watch that began to impact the drug discovery paradigm.

In the near future, biomedical research will deliver more cancer cures, researchers will continue to explore new frontiers, including tackling ageing – one of biggest risk factors for cancer.

'Expand access to screenings'

David Fredrickson, Executive Vice-President, Oncology Business Unit, AstraZeneca

Science has proven that in cancer care, the earlier we act, the better the outcome for patients. Prior to the pandemic, we consistently saw global decreases in cancer-related deaths, largely due to increased screening and early diagnosis, as well as advances in treatment, including personalized medicine.

The pandemic threatens to reverse that trend. The European Cancer Organisation predicts COVID-19 will result in one million missed diagnoses in Europe. And in the US, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network reported that more than three-quarters of people actively undergoing treatment for cancer had to delay some aspect of their care during the pandemic.

There is hope, however, in the ground-breaking innovation and collaboration of the global cancer community in response to the pandemic. As we re-emerge from the greatest health crisis of a generation, now is the time to act to avert a cancer crisis. To do that, we must maintain and extend the partnerships we’ve forged, prioritize resilience and sustainability in our healthcare systems and work at a local level to expand access to screenings.

The cost of inaction – both to lives and the sustainability of the healthcare system – is too high.

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