healthcare

In the news: Call for personalised cancer care, the WHO backs taxes on sugar drinks and more

A wrap of the big health news of the week.

New approach to cancer care

Cancer specialists have called for personalised and evidence-based treatments for the various forms of the disease rather than a generic approach. Oncologists from 15 countries at a conference in New Delhi last week noted that rates of incidence of different cancers varied among countries and populations. Personalisation could allow cancer treatments to be less aggressive and need to be more precise, they said.

According to news reports, Nancy Lee of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York pointed out that head-neck cancer is more common in India than in the US where there is greater lung cancer and other cancer incidence. The annual incidence of head and neck cancers worldwide is more than 550,000 cases, while in India, out of the 11 lakh incidences a year of cancer overall, between 2.5 lakh and 3 lakh cases are of head and neck cancer.

Trials that Lee’s team, has conducted have shown that tumour mutations were also different in different cases, which again points towards the need for personalized treatments.

Professor of head-neck surgery and otorhinolaryngology at the AIIMS and the organising chairman of the conference, Alok Thakar, detailed a change in stratety in cancer treatment in which a tumour board assesses how a patient is to be treated based on multi-disciplinary planning. Thakar also stressed that it was important to improve quality of life of the patient along with ensuring his or her survival. He said that it is essential for cancer treatment to work like a team sport in which radiation, medical and surgical oncologists work together.

Cheaper insulin, hepatitis B injections?

Researchers at the Institute of Microbial Technology in Chandigarh have developed technology to produce protein-based medicines like insulin, the clot buster streptokinase and the hepatitis B vaccine. The work that has been the first of its kind in India is expected to bring the cost of these medicines by three or four times.


India is largely dependent on imported and patented technology for these three medical products among others But India has the second largest burden of diabetes and hepatitis patients in the world after China. India has 66 million diabetics and 40 million hepatitis B patients.

The researchers worked on finding a new expression vector for the protein-based medicine to replace the vector in use which is patented and so adds to the cost of the vaccine. The present cost of hepatitis B vaccine in India ranges between Rs 45 at the Serum Institute and Rs 250 per paediatric dose of 10 microgram in 0.5ml, the Times of India reported. The cost of adult dose of 20 microgram is nearly double. For insulin, the price varies from Rs 140 to Rs 325 per injection.

Institute of Microbial Technology team says that their technology, once scaled up can bring the cost of the hepatitis B vaccine to around Re 1 per dose, while the lowest production cost reported for the existing vaccine is Rs 4 per dose.

WHO recommends sugar taxes

On October 11 the World Health Organisation recommended that countries tax sugary drinks to counter an overwhelming global addiction to them leading to epidemics of obesity and diabetes, to say nothing of tooth decay. In its report “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases, the WHO said that a 20% increase in the retail price of sugary drinks would result in proportional reductions in their consumption.

The director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development Dr. Francesco Branca said that nutritionally, people don’t need any sugar in their diet and that sugar intake must be kept below 10% of a person’s total energy needs. Another cut by 5% would result in additional health benefits, said Branca.

In India the health ministry has been contemplating the regulation of advertising, and increasing the tax on both junk food and sweetened beverages, according to media reports. Speaking to The Hindu, the chairman of the National Diabetes, Obesity and Cholesterol Foundation, Anoop Misra, said WHO’s recommendation could not have come at a better time and is particularly suited to India where sweet and sugar intake is high.

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