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Kenya launches innovative lung cancer therapy

The Ministry of Health, in partnership with AstraZeneca, the Kenya Society of Haematology (KESHO), Axios, the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI), various health facilities, and professional societies, has recently launched an innovative therapy for the management of lung cancer in Kenya.

The targeted therapy treatment is specifically designed to combat non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, claiming nearly 10 million lives in 2020 alone.

Among the various types of cancer, lung cancer stood out as the leading cause of cancer-related fatalities, accounting for approximately 1.8 million deaths in the same year.

In 2020, Globocan estimated 1,435,943 incidences of lung cancer, out of which 794 cases were from Kenya. Even with these stark figures, quality cancer care remains inaccessible to many Africans due to inadequate diagnostic facilities, low patient awareness, a lack of training for healthcare providers, and difficulties accessing preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic resources.

Speaking at the launch at a Nairobi Hotel, Interim African Cluster President at AstraZeneca, Mr. Deepak Arora, said that at AstraZeneca, access to healthcare is a priority, and they leverage science to strengthen healthcare systems.

“The introduction of innovative therapies for the management of cancer will greatly improve patient outcomes,” he said, adding that to achieve our goal of reimagining cancer treatment, collaboration with the cancer community, healthcare institutions, and governments is essential. Together, by creating a network that transcends borders, we can fill gaps in the patient care pathway and offer solutions that improve outcomes and transform patient journeys,” he said.

The Medical Director, African Cluster (SA, SSA, and FSA) at AstraZeneca, Dr. Khomotso Mashilane, said the overall survival rate for lung cancer remains low due to delayed diagnosis and metastasis.

“However, the introduction of innovative therapies is a significant milestone in advancing lung cancer treatment options, empowering healthcare professionals to provide personalised care, and addressing the unique needs of each patient,” said Mashilane.

By specifically targeting non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations, it has the potential to enhance treatment outcomes and positively impact the lives of lung cancer patients,” he added.

Mashilane said that as part of AstraZeneca’s commitment to global oncology, the company has actively engaged in initiatives combating lung cancer in Africa. Notably, the Cancer Care Africa (CCA) programme launched in November 2022 at COP27 in Egypt and is set to launch in Kenya in 2023.

He noted that CCA aids countries in their fight against cancer by advocating for policy changes to improve outcomes for all individuals affected by the disease, irrespective of their demographic, geographic, or socio-economic status.

Implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the Kenya Society of Haematology (KESHO), Axios, the National Cancer Institute of Kenya (NCI), various health facilities, and professional societies, the CCA focuses on building capacity, enhancing screening and diagnostics, and empowering patients to make informed decisions.

Mashilane said that in an effort to further strengthen health care access in the country, AstraZeneca, through the CCA programme, supported the installation of an EGFR testing machine at Aga Khan University Hospital, a real-time test for the qualitative detection of defined mutations of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients.

The doctor noted that identifying these genetic alterations promptly empowers healthcare providers to make well-informed treatment decisions tailored to the individual needs of each patient.

“Prior to this installation, patients in need of EGFR testing had to rely on laboratories in South Africa, leading to potential delays in receiving critical information for their treatment plans. The local availability of this advanced testing capability at Aga Khan University Hospital significantly reduces turnaround times, giving patients a better chance at successful outcomes,” he added.

Dr. Mashilani said that to improve the affordability of this innovative therapy in Kenya, AstraZeneca has partnered with Axios to establish a patient access programme that aims to ensure that more patients can benefit from the medication and receive the necessary support.

By Hamdi Mohamud

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