The partnership paves the way for the adoption of AI technology in chest x-ray for early lung screening at government health facilities

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Sept. 22, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — 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. As a centre of excellence for cancer care in the country, IKN will be the first government institution in the country to implement this AI technology.

Vinod Narayanan – Country President, AstraZeneca Malaysia, together with Dr. Puteri Norliza binti Megat Ramli – Deputy Director, Institut Kanser Negara, at the collaboration announcement

In Malaysia, lung cancer is one of the most common cancers[i], accounting for 19:1 deaths per 100,000 population in the country[ii]. Worryingly, 80% of patients are diagnosed at stage four[iii], when the cancer has spread to other body parts, making early screening crucial to expedite diagnosis and treatment for patients.

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. SAPU also aspires to close the gap in screening by broadening the public’s access to this cutting-edge technology and identifying more patients in the early stages of cancer.

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 (3) 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.[iv] 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.


Accessible, cutting-edge detection technology

The AI technology works by embedding in the interpretation of X-rays to detect incidental pulmonary nodule (IPN). Patients who undergo the screening will take a traditional X-ray, which will be reviewed using the AI software. The technology can generate a comprehensive report in less than 1 minute, proving itself a valuable tool to support healthcare practitioners in diagnosing patients, eliminating potential missed diagnoses and improving diagnoses timeline, thereby enabling patients to access treatment faster.

AstraZeneca Lung Ambition Alliance 
– A movement to double five-year survival in lung cancer and advance cancer research

SAPU is an initiative under AstraZeneca’s Lung Ambition Alliance (LAA), which aims to promote better lung screening, early diagnosis and drive meaningful survival improvements for people with lung cancer. This is the third phase of the initiative, which first began in 2021.

The first phase was conducted at private primary care clinics under the Qualitas Group, where the AI technology was rolled out at private primary care clinics. The initiative was then expanded in 2022, with the second phase involving three private tertiary care hospitals and referring patients screened to those hospitals for further investigation with a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scan.

The pilot SAPU programme also serves as a study for local cancer research. Data gained from the programme will be used to develop an in-depth and updated understanding of Malaysia’s local landscape and disease demographics.

Since AstraZeneca’s lung cancer early diagnostics programme launched in 2021, nearly 19,000 patients have been screened. Through their efforts in research and working with local and global experts and partners, AstraZeneca’s LAA aims to take urgent action to double the five-year survival in lung cancer globally by 2025 by prioritising research and projects that increase screening and early diagnosis, delivering potentially innovative treatments and improving quality care; and one day, eliminate lung cancer as a cause of death.

AstraZeneca (LSE/STO/Nasdaq: AZN) is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines, primarily for the treatment of diseases in three therapy areas – Oncology, Cardiovascular, Renal & Metabolism, and Respiratory & Immunology. Based in Cambridge, UK, AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. Please visit and follow the Company on Twitter @AstraZeneca.

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