In Malaysia, lung cancer is one of the most common cancers accounting for 19:1 deaths per 100,000 population in the country. Worryingly, 80% of patients are diagnosed at stage four when the cancer has spread to other body parts, making early screening crucial to expedite diagnosis and treatment for patients.
Thus, in conjunction with Institut Kanser Negara’s (IKN) 10th anniversary, AstraZeneca announced its collaboration to accelerate digitalisation in healthcare by introducing Artificial Intelligence (AI) x-ray technology into early lung screening at government clinics and hospitals under the Projek Saringan Awal Paru-Paru (SAPU) programme. IKN will be the first government institution in the country to implement this AI technology, which works by embedding in the interpretation of X-rays to detect incidental pulmonary nodules (IPN).
Projek SAPU aims to act as a catalyst to encourage the adoption of AI x-ray screening by other government healthcare facilities, fostering a broader embrace of early screening for lung abnormalities as well as advancing research efforts in lung care. Under Projek SAPU, this AI technology will also be rolled out as a pilot study at selected government clinics and hospitals across the country, with selected centres acting as ‘sandbox sites’ to collate data on the roll-out results.
This initiative is part of AstraZeneca’s early AI-powered lung cancer screening under its flagship Lung Ambition Alliance programme, which was first rolled out in 2021 at the primary care level with private clinics. A year later, AstraZeneca further expanded its early AI lung cancer screening programme by partnering with three private tertiary hospitals to facilitate patient referral from the clinics, for further diagnosis using a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan.
Since the programme’s inception in 2021, close to 19,000 patients have been screened for lung cancer and over 400 high-risk patients have been referred to selected hospitals for further investigation.
Under this third phase named Projek SAPU, the AI technology will also be rolled out as a pilot study at selected government clinics and hospitals across the country, with selected centres acting as ‘sandbox sites’ to collate data on the roll-out results. Data gained from the programme will be used to develop an understanding of Malaysia’s local landscape and disease demographics.
Commenting on this partnership, Vinod Narayanan, Country President of AstraZeneca Malaysia said, “At AstraZeneca, we look forward to co-creating solutions with our partners to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country and explore new ways to accelerate digitalisation in health care through AI technology. This partnership with IKN is seminal as it enables us to provide a new experience to healthcare practitioners by embedding advanced AI technology for early lung screening and detecting various lung conditions, beyond lung cancer. We know that AI-driven diagnosis is pivotal in merging cutting-edge technology with healthcare and this approach ultimately provides better prognosis and outcome for patients.”
“Locally, the number of patient visits to government clinics and hospitals rank millions. The introduction of AI technology in these centres means that a wider part of the population can benefit from this advanced technology early screening and at lower, affordable costs. This is a crucial first step in levelling the field and ensuring the wider population receives access to this AI-driven lung care screening,” Vinod explained.
Vinod further added that AstraZeneca’s partnership with IKN aims to promote the adoption of AI technology within the government sector, while strengthening the healthcare ecosystem in Malaysia to put the country on the map, on par with other countries that have been fast to adopt AI technology in healthcare.
Dr. Mohd Anis bin Haron @ Harun, Director of Institut Kanser Negara said, “At IKN, we want to continue emphasising the importance of lung care among the wider population through early detection and treatment of diseases. Early screening can improve the chances of survival, in particular lung cancer, and this consequently can alleviate the high financial cost of cancer on our national healthcare system.”
“Our partnership with AstraZeneca is a right step in the direction of reducing the burden of NCDs in the country through early diagnosis. IKN recognises that integrating AI technology into healthcare will also pave the way in transforming the future landscape of health diagnosis,” Dr. Mohd Anis further opined.
Projek SAPU expands beyond lung cancer screening. As the AI technology works by evaluating X-rays, the technology also enables healthcare practitioners to detect more than 30 lung-related diseases or pathologies, such as Covid-19, tuberculosis and lung fibrosis.