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Singapore Institutions Launch Program to Diagnose, Treat EBV-Associated Nasopharyngeal Cancer

NEW YORK – The Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) on Monday announced a new research program to improve early diagnosis and outcomes for nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) patients in Singapore.

GIS, part of Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, or A*STAR, is spearheading the new collaborative research program alongside researchers from the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore and the National Cancer Centre Singapore. Support for the program comes from a new Open Fund-Large Collaborative Grant (OF-LCG) from the National Research Foundation, Singapore, and administered by the Singapore Ministry of Health's National Medical Research Council.

NPC is the second most common cancer among males ages 40 to 49 in Singapore. In an effort to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage, the researchers are focused on the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is associated with NPC, particularly in Southern Chinese, Malay, and Southeast Asian populations. The researchers aim to identify high-risk EBV strains that are driving NPC in Southeast Asian populations to advance population screening and targeted treatment.

The new program includes three approaches toward this goal. The first approach includes a series of genome sequencing analyses to home in on EBV strains driving NPC in Southeast Asian populations. The second involves a community screening program to identify people at high risk of developing NPC by way of serology and circulating tumor DNA biomarker testing. For this portion, the researchers will perform clinical evaluations and follow these individuals to evaluate the effectiveness of the biomarker screenings.

Finally, the researchers will also launch a multi-arm clinical trial to evaluate personalized treatment strategies for patients with stage II to IV recurrent metastatic NPC. This platform trial, dubbed RIBBON, will use EBV DNA sequencing to guide treatment decisions.

"The discovery of EBV risk strains as a genetic determinant for NPC development has greatly unlocked opportunities to explore new strategies that can transform the clinical management of NPC," Liu Jian Jun, a distinguished institute fellow at A*STAR's GIS, said in a statement. "The success of this collaboration will improve the effectiveness of early-stage diagnosis and personalized treatment for NPC patients in Singapore as well as Southeast Asia."