Improving Diagnostic Testing in Asia

Partnership objective

  1. Enhance collaboration between all health workers in the management of cancer care through the creation of multidisciplinary teams.
  2. Increase understanding and awareness around the need for reliable oncology tests and the complexity in sample collection and processing.
  3. Improve accuracy and reliability of cancer diagnosis through education and training around all aspects of tissue testing processes, starting with HER2 driven disease.
  4. Ensure more patients receive an accurate diagnosis of disease and appropriate treatment.

Viewing tissue staining using automated scanner that aids reading and scoring of test results. Viewing tissue staining using automated scanner that aids reading and scoring of test results. Copyright Roche

What are the health needs and challenges?

Breast and gastric cancer are among the most common cancers in Asia. The incidence rates remain low, although they are increasing faster than in Western countries due to changes in lifestyle and diet. HER2-positive cancer is a particularly aggressive form that affects about one-in-five people with breast or gastric cancer.

Samples of a patient’s tumour must be tested for HER2 before treatment starts, in order to determine the most appropriate treatment option. The accuracy of the test is critical, requiring proficiency in tissue collection and processing, as well as laboratory procedures and interpretation of the test results. 

Without reliable diagnostic testing, clinicians are unable to effectively screen for cancer, diagnose disease and develop care plans. 

In Asia there is a critical shortage of reliable laboratories providing quality testing results, along with qualified pathologists and technical personal (histo-technologists).  This is compounded by the limited opportunities for professional education and training, and the more general lack of resources needed to strengthen healthcare systems. This contributes to the majority of cancers not being diagnosed until they reach an advanced stage of disease when it is often too late for a cure.

This highlights the need for educational programs to increase the number of pathologists and histo-technicians in the region, combined with programs to strengthen the skills of the current workforce.

Description of partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

In 2010 Roche launched the SPHERE program (Scientific Partnership for HER2 Testing Excellence) in Asia-Pacific. The aim is to help integrate HER2 testing of breast and gastric cancer patients at the point of disease diagnosis.

Developed with experts, SPHERE is designed to improve pathologists and histo-technicians skills around all aspects of tissue testing processes, starting with HER2 driven disease. The training includes plenary presentations and workshops, with hands-on laboratory experience and interactive microscope sessions. The aim is to increase the reliability and reproducibility of HER2 testing by:

  • Training surgeons on taking and handling tissue biopsies
  • Establishing training and quality control procedures for lab technicians
  • Assisting pathologists in scoring and interpreting results
  • Educating oncologists on the need for reliable HER2 testing and the link to treatment decisions

In addition, the program aims to educate, share best practice and facilitate collaboration between all health workers in the management of cancer care - surgeons, technicians, pathologists, radiologists and oncologists - through the creation of multidisciplinary teams. The ultimate goal is for people to receive accurate, timely diagnosis of the disease and appropriate selection for treatment.

Summary of impact and forward looking information

SPHERE now operates in 13 countries in Asia-Pacific: Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

In 2015, close to 8,820 pathologists, surgeons and technicians participated in the training programme. Over 168,600 women with breast cancer and nearly 74,000 gastric cancer patients have been tested in the SPHERE program.

Partnership information

Company(ies) Roche

Partner(s) Local associations, Local government, Local hospitals & health centers & patient groups

Type of Partner(s) Academia / Hospitals, Government, Professional Associations

Therapeutic Focus Non-Communicable Diseases, Women and Children's Health

Disease(s) Breast Cancer, Cancer, Women's Health

Program Type(s) Health System Infrastructure - Development of Physical Infrastructure, Health System Infrastructure - Training

Targeted Population(s) Health professionals, Patients in needs of treatment, Women

Region(s) East Asia & Pacific, South Asia

Number of Countries 12

Country(ies) Bangladesh, China, Hong-Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam

Start Date 2010

More information HER2 learning and educational resource for healthcare professionals Education and software tool for pathology training and collaboration; Roche Access to Healthcare; HER2 Dual ISH DNA Training and Certification Program; Roche Digital Pathology solutions;

Anticipated completion date Ongoing