TBCC to add immunotherapy to list of cancer treatments

|     Hakim Hayat     |

THE Brunei Cancer Centre (TBCC) of Pantai Jerudong Specialist Centre (PJSC) will be introducing immunotherapy as an add-on modality of treatment along with the other forms of cancer therapy it offers.

PJSC in a press statement said that two top Japanese experts will be in Brunei to provide preliminary advice on the new treatment, and inspect the centre’s available immunotherapy laboratory facilities and human resources capacities.

The specialists are Professor Hiroshi Terunuma from Tokyo Clinic, Director of the Biotherapy Institute of Japan, and Professor Kanichi Seto, Senior Advisor at Southern Tohoku General Hospital and President of the International Health Care Foundation.

They will speak tomorrow at the PJSC auditorium to an audience of doctors, and visit the cancer centre and the laboratory of Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC) during their three-day visit.

According to PJSC, in immunotherapy, selective immune cells are used for cancer treatment through cell expansion, and can be selectively used to kill cancer cells such as a group of cells called natural killer cells (known also as NK cells or K cells).

Professor Kanichi Seto (L) and Professor Hiroshi Terunuma
Aerial view of TBCC. – PHOTOS: PJSC

As a safe adjunct treatment for fighting cancers today, immunotherapy has been used to treat lung cancer and a variety of malignant skin cancers called melanomas, as well as recurrent cervix and breast cancers.

Cancer is a leading cause of death in the world and in Brunei, approximately 800 new cancer cases are diagnosed annually. Standard treatments like surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are available for treatment in the country.

New strategies are being developed to improve the survival rates of cancer patients, including the introduction of immunotherapy. To eliminate cancer, the body’s immune system must work together with the conventional treatments. The patient’s immune system must work well for chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill the cancer cells effectively.

According to PJSC, the move to introduce immunotherapy is part of the board’s strategic decision to get the Centre for Cancer Prevention and Early Detection up and running as soon as possible (the new facility is earmarked to begin operations by April 2019).

It stated that several steps have been taken to implement this important service, which is envisioned to increase awareness among the public on the imperativeness of seeking early treatment for cancers. The PJSC also added that in the case of several cancers, early detection heightens the chances of successful treatment, and that it would it would engage in an integrated effort in collaboration with the Ministry of Health to promote the early detection of breast, colon, lungs and cervix cancer and preventive measures.

The TBCC has evolved significantly since its establishment in 2009. In mid 2018, the centre received the go-ahead to commence nuclear medicine services after meeting the required infrastructural requirements, and the experts were recruited to allow it to commence operations following a final inspection by representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

With the addition of the nuclear medicine treatments, cancer patients in Brunei are able to undergo positron emission tomography (PET) scans, necessary to check the status of cancer spread. Similarly, thyroid cancer patients are able to have radioiodine treatment in Brunei.

In the past, Bruneians had to be sent to regional medical centres or more distant hospitals for their PET scans. Recently, a group of experts from Australia and the UK visited the PJSC’s Nuclear Medicine Centre and found that the quality was comparable to global standards.

The TBCC board appointed Professor Cheng Saw from Pennsylvania, United States to accredit the standard of services being provided at the centre to maintain standards.

A monthly audit is conducted randomly by the expert, while twice-a-year onsite visits are made to ensure a rigorous overall assessment. The board also invited three top radiotherapy services experts from Germany who spent three days at the Radiotherapy Centre to assess the planning of treatments and quality of treatment services being provided. The three visiting professors were highly satisfied with the facilities following the inspection.

In the field of chemotherapy, personalised cancer treatments tailored to each patient’s genetic markers are now being provided.

The PJSC has also decided to establish a Palliative Cancer Care Medicine division – slated to be fully-functional by June this year – with new nurses being jointly trained by the centre and the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) under its Palliative Nursing Care and Caregivers for Cancer Care diploma programme.