Affordable approaches to earlier cancer diagnosis in India

Cancer is a global disease that does not discriminate who it affects. However, strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer can be costly and challenging to implement in countries with a low-medium human development index such as India.

In recognition of this, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), in partnership with the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance, launched a £10m five-year research funding programme in 2018. The challenges set by the Affordable Approaches to Cancer programme range from prevention and early diagnosis through to treatment, with a remit to build bilateral teams with complementary research strengths in both India and the UK to address a cancer of high unmet need in India, the UK and/or globally, and produce outputs that are affordable and readily translatable to patients.

An open call to apply for seed funding was launched in  2019 and over 100 bilateral teams applied.  In March 2020, seven successful teams were awarded seed funding grants of up to £30,000 and these teams have 8 months to prepare and submit an application for a Programme Award grant of up to £1.5 million over 4 years.

One of these seven teams is led by Dr Ravi Kannan (Cachar Cancer Hospital & Research Centre, Assam, India) and Dr Toral Gathani (Nuffield Department of Population Health), who have brought together a multidisciplinary collaboration between academia, healthcare, government and industry in India and the UK, with complementary research strengths to tackle the challenge of the early diagnosis of cancer. Toral is a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon and senior clinical research fellow in the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, whose research focuses on the epidemiology of breast cancer in women of different ethnicities in the UK and as a global health concern.

Their proposal is focused on the use of digital health platforms to educate community healthcare workers with the aim of improving the earlier diagnosis of a range of cancers. Cancers that are diagnosed earlier are more likely to be treated successfully, resulting in higher survival rates and lower costs. Unfortunately in North-Eastern India, cancer is frequently diagnosed at a later stage due to a combination of the low knowledge of cancer symptoms and care provision in both communities and in community healthcare workers, and the complexity of the healthcare system.

To address these problems, the team is turning to mobile health applications (mHealth). They aim to develop and use mHealth to provide both knowledge about cancer presentation and information to help navigate the healthcare system, for example detailing the available local cancer care services and financing options. They also plan to evaluate the clinical and economic benefit of this approach and build a strong research collaboration for future projects.

Toral, Ravi and their team are now using this seed funding to develop their full application, due in December. If you are interested in this project and feel you could add value to the team, please contact AffordableApproaches@cancer.org.uk

For more information on this project, check out the Cancer Research UK website here.