SA sets up new frontier against prostate cancer

Thursday, January 26, 2023
Delegation visiting the under construction prostate cancer unit.

The fight against prostate cancer, which is one of the top five cancers reported among men in South Africa, is being given another boost through the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility at Steve Biko Academic Hospital (SBAH) in Pretoria.

Health Deputy Minister, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, together with the European Union Commissioner of Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, on Thursday visited the facility, which is still under construction.

The setting up of the crucial unit emanated from collaboration between the University of Pretoria (UP) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in 2017 to offer services for prostate cancer to South African patients.

More than 300 South African prostate cancer patients have been successfully treated with Targeted Alpha Therapy (TAT) through this collaboration.

According to the European Commission, TAT is based on the coupling of alpha particle-emitting radioisotopes to tumour-selective carrier molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies or peptides. These molecules can selectively target tumour cells, even if they are spread throughout the body.

“The treatment is offered to prostate cancer patients through compassionate use and improved protocols for patient treatment,” the Health Department said.

According to UP, other joint studies will lead to the development of TAT for other types of cancer, with a particular focus on breast cancer.

The Deputy Minister has described the move as a signal to an important era of collaboration with their European Union (EU) counterparts to enhance healthcare research, as both parties jointly endeavour to “leave no one behind”.

Dhlomo thanked the SBAH team for the commendable research they have undertaken over the past years in the area of nuclear medicine.

“I agree that the concept of nuclear medicine is not spoken about. However, nuclear medicine has played a critical role in the health sector over many years in the diagnosis of many ailments.

“It is quite encouraging to see how this practice has evolved over the years to play an increasingly important role in therapeutics as well. I am informed that there is a new area of radiation medicine called theranostics, which engulfs both diagnostic and therapeutic use of nuclear medicine,” Dhlomo said.

South Africa, the Deputy Minister said, continues to experience a quadruple burden of disease, including a high burden of HIV and AIDS, TB and an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases, of which cancer is a high priority.

“Nuclear medicine plays a critical role in enhancing our response to our complex burden of disease,” Dhlomo said.

He said cancer has become one of the leading causes of death and suffering among communities in low and middle-income countries.

The top five cancers in men include prostate (25.29%), followed by colorectal (5.63%), lung (4.01%), non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (3.2%) and melanoma (2.74%).

In women, the top five cancers include breast (23.22%), cervix (15.85%), colorectal (4.46%), uterus (3.6%) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (2.55%).

“As we aim to create equity in access to care among all our communities, government has an obligation not only to ensure implementation of preventative strategies where applicable, but also to create access to early detection as well as appropriate and timeous treatment of cancers to improve our survival rates.

“It is also necessary for us to recognise the need for research and innovation to enhance treatment outcomes. I firmly believe that creating basic access to diagnosis and treatment can co-exist with our endeavours to be innovative,” said Dhlomo.

He expressed enthusiasm to learn more about the role played by the new modality, an alpha-emitting Actinium-225 in the treatment of prostate cancer, which will contribute to reducing the burden of disease. 

“I believe that the ongoing research collaboration between the Department of Health, the SBAH and our EU counterparts will help expand the use of this treatment modality to other types of cancer, such as breast cancer, in the future.”

He believes that the Nuclear Medicine Research Institute (NuMeRi), having reached a construction completion stage at SBAH, will immensely contribute toward the realisation of this mission.

Dhlomo paid tribute to the hospital for reaching this milestone and recognised the outstanding research work done by Professor Mike Sathekge, the Head of the Nuclear Medicine Department at UP and SBAH, and his team.

Commendig the development of the facility, Kyriakides said Europe and South Africa have a strong partnership through the development, manufacturing and access to COVID-19 vaccines in Africa and worldwide.

Both parties also discussed ways to extend cooperation in other key areas of health. –