When 37-year-old Diana was told that her current treatment was not working in her favour, her heart sank. But thanks to a clinical trial, her hope was rekindled. The trial drug offered her fresh hopes and possibilities.

Every treatment is hope for the patient; it is the fruit of clinical research, which advance patients’ health and push medical boundaries.

The Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM), wholly owned by the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Malaysia, was set up in June 2012 to facilitate and enable clinical research by garnering support from the industry, public and medical fraternity. This non-profit organisation is tasked with creating awareness among the public, media and policy makers, exploring ways to improve facilities and resources for industry sponsored research (ISR), and developing sites and investigators.

Dr Akhmal Yusof, the chief executive officer of CRM, said Malaysia would be the preferred destination for ISR, and CRM would develop clinical research as an economic growth engine.

The health ministry has approved 80 ISR sites which are a synergy of public and private hospitals. To align with vision 2020, CRM is targeting 1000 ongoing trials.

Malaysia as the preferred site for ISR

Malaysia is an ideal trial site because it has an adequate and efficient healthcare system with a strong pool of highly qualified medical professionals, state-of-the-art medical technology and an excellent information system. Besides, its consistent start-up timelines, prevalence of non-communicable diseases, competitive trial cost and strong commitment from the government make it an attractive hub that will enable faster, safer and cheaper trials while upholding quality and integrity.

The efforts of CRM have been encouraging. It has improved the number of feasibilities by 300% and recorded a 50% growth in new sponsors. Through participation in international conferences and exhibitions, CRM has generated a 200% growth in inquiries about ISR opportunities in the country.

What the country lacks is quality resources that are comparable with international standards. So far, CRM has provided refresher courses for MOH investigators and also partners with George Clinical Malaysia to enhance skills in conducting trials.

Breakthroughs in research are likely

Several innovative research have kicked off and breakthroughs are likely.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists and research scholars from the MARA University in Malaysia are using the saliva of patients to develop a diagnostic technology for the early detection of life-threatening diseases such as dengue fever and encephalitis. The research is currently in its early stages.

Another research involves finding antibiotic alternatives to fight superbugs. Shu Lam, a Malaysian doctoral candidate, has developed a chain of star-shaped polymer molecules that could kill superbugs by tearing the bacterial walls apart.

“What I've discovered is a class of new antimicrobial agents. We hope that these will be replacements for antibiotics," Lam said.

She is also working with her team on the use of polymers to treat cancer.

A new dawn is approaching as Malaysia intensifies its push for greater collaboration with the industry, medical fraternity, public and patients to initiate more clinical trials. MIMS

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