On 7th and 8th December 2022, with easing COVID-related restrictions, the 2nd MACR International Scientific Conference (2nd MSC) took place at the Bandar Saujana Putra Campus of MAHSA University, ensconced in a somewhat secluded part of Greater Kuala Lumpur, away from the downtown hubbub. The meeting is known for its specific focus on cancer-related research. The peace and quiet on campus were perhaps fitting for contemplation of the important question ‘Next-generation cancer therapeutics – Where are we heading?’.
Over 200 attendees gathered at the university campus for the two-day conference, which was the fruit of collaboration between the Malaysian Association for Cancer Research (MACR), the Malaysian Oncological Society (MOS), and local public and private universities. The conference programme spanned a variety of cancer research areas i.e., identification of novel cancer drug targets, discovery of new cancer drugs, translational cancer medicine, clinical trials of new cancer drugs, diagnostic and prognostic values of new cancer markers, cancer prevention, and precision oncology. A total of 44 abstracts were accepted for presentation at the conference (22 posters, 22 oral presentations).
In the first plenary session, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Han Chong Toh of the National Cancer Centre Singapore spoke about ‘Cancer immunotherapy in 2022 – end of the beginning’. He revealed how immunotherapy, though still not widely accessible because of its cost, had transformed cancer survival statistics. The immune-boosting therapy draws on the natural ability of immune cells to detect and kill abnormal cells; it is regarded as the last-line treatment when all other options are exhausted.
The plenary talk was followed by a unique forum that brought together cancer survivors (Prof. Datin Dr. Rozi Mahmud from Universiti Putra Malaysia), cancer advocates (Dr. Murallitharan Munisamy from National Cancer Society Malaysia), clinicians (Prof. Dr. How Soon Hin from International Islamic University Malaysia, Prof. Dato’ Dr. Fuad Ismail from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, and Dr. Yolanda Augustin from St George’s, University of London), and representatives from the pharmaceutical industry (Mr. Jegatheswaran Panderengen from Novartis Corporation Malaysia) for discussions of salient issues concerning the accessibility of anticancer drugs. The panelists exchanged views on evidence-based strategies for making anticancer therapy more affordable; the need for expedited inclusion of new anticancer drugs in hospital formularies; empowering patients through shared decision making; and the roles of insurance companies and governments in funding costly anticancer treatments that would be otherwise inaccessible to patients who are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Prof. Dr. Boon Cher Goh from the National University of Singapore presented his work on ‘Targeting treatment resistance in head and neck cancer through unravelling molecular mechanisms’ in the second plenary session. He shed light on novel mechanisms, fuelled by genetic aberrations, that give rise to aggressive tumours. Prof. Dr. Roger Phillips from the University of Huddersfield continued the discourse with his plenary talk on ‘The identification of a group of self-assembling, trimetallic cryptands with multi-kinase inhibitor activity using a phenotypic approach to drug discovery’. His team searched for new anticancer drugs that could curb therapeutic resistance by virtue of multipronged mechanisms of action.
The fourth and last plenary session was preceded by a relatively light-hearted forum discussion of how to publish in high-impact journals. The panelists were Prof. Dr. Johnson Stanslas from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Prof. Dr. Ian Paterson from University of Malaya, and Prof. Dr. Boon Cher Goh. The forum was started by the panelists’ discussing the characteristics of high-impact research. The controversy surrounding the allegedly unethical practices of some open-access publishers was also debated. The audience were cautioned about publishers that prey on academicians under the guise of reasonable impact factors listed in the Journal Citation Reports, the gatekeeper of scholarly publishing.
Then, the plenary talk series was concluded with a virtual presentation on ‘Precision medicine in lymphoid malignancies’ by Prof. Dr. Richard Rosenquist Brandell from the Karolinska Institutet. He spoke about precise classification of lymphoid malignancies according to their mutational signatures, and the use of new biomarkers identified through next-generation sequencing to guide treatment decisions.
The lineup of invited speakers also discussed some of the notable discoveries that might help to break the efficacy bottlenecks of anticancer therapeutics. They were Prof. Dr. Ho Gwo Fuang, Emeritus Prof. Dr. Liam Chong Kin, Prof. Dr. Bee Ping Chong, Prof. Dr. Ian Paterson, and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Wan Zamaniah Wan Ishak from University of Malaya; Dr. Mitsumi Terada from National Cancer Center, Japan; Dr. Yolanda Augustin; Dr. Mastura Md Yusof from Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur; Prof. Dr. Andrew D. Westwell from Cardiff University; and Dr. Magdalena B. Wozniak from Novartis Pharma Ltd, Ireland.
Amir Imran bin Faisal Hamdi from Universiti Putra Malaysia was named the best oral presenter for his work ‘An effort to establish the concept of adaptive therapy in vitro using non-small cell lung cancer cells treated with afatinib’. Jia Wern Pan’s (Cancer Research Malaysia) presentation on ‘Gene signature for predicting homologous recombination deficiency in triple-negative breast cancer’ earned her the first runner-up title. The second runner-up was Dhayaalini Bala Gopal from Taylor’s University. She spoke about ‘Identification and evaluation of tumour-homing peptides specifically targeting metastatic breast cancer cells’.
The best poster presenter was Chai Phei Gan from University of Malaya. Her work involved ‘Induction of in vitro cytotoxicity in high-risk oral leukoplakia using a cancer vaccine’. Sau Har Lee from Taylor’s University was named the first runner-up for her poster presentation ‘In silico prediction and physicochemical analysis of mutant anticancer short-length pardaxin 6 peptide fragments derived from Pardachirus Marmoratus’. The second runner-up prize was awarded to Amir Imran bin Faisal Hamdi from Universiti Putra Malaysia for his work ‘Cloning of KRAS oncogene targeting single-guide RNA in a CRISPR/Cas9 system: A first step in generating a non-small lung cancer cell line with KRAS and EGFR double mutation’.
Overall, the conference was successful in that it brought the cancer research community together at a challenging time when there was still a general sense of misgiving about the COVID pandemic. The intent of the Organising Committee was to prompt meaningful discussions of overcoming the limitations of contemporary anticancer therapeutics. We believe we have achieved that. The conference garnered positive feedback from the participants, who appreciated the new insights they gained into cancer pathobiology and how that would in turn translate into effective anticancer treatments. With the continuing efforts homing in on novel treatment modalities, we foresee the advent of a new generation of anticancer agents that could drastically prolong patient survival without compromising quality of life.
The Organising Committee would like to thank the following sponsors for their generous support: Novartis Corporation (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd., Agilent Technologies, Inc., Eman Biodiscoveries Sdn. Bhd., Janssen Oncology (Johnson & Johnson Sdn. Bhd.), Biomed Global, Bio3 Scientific Sdn. Bhd., Uno Nutrition, MyGenome, NeoScience, Aspire BioSains PLT, Straits Scientific (M) Sdn. Bhd., Apical Scientific, Pharmaceutical Association of Malaysia.
Research funding: The authors received no specific funding for this study.
Author contributions: EWC and ACHY wrote the initial and final drafts of the manuscript; JS, DJO, JCWL, JBF, GN, SHL, YSW, and SCT reviewed the initial draft of the manuscript and approved the final draft submitted for review and publication.
Competing interests: The authors state no conflict of interest.
Availability of data and materials: Not applicable.
Ethics approval: Not applicable.
© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.