For decades, much of the pipeline of medical innovation has flowed from West to East. Now a string of companies are attempting to upend that trend with new drugs and products tailored to Asian bodies and lifestyles.
There’s the Singapore-based drugmaker tackling an obscure cancer that’s rare in the West but common in Asia, where it’s been linked to a popular fish dish. Med-tech startups are preparing to sell tests to detect tumors more accurately in Asian women with denser breast tissue, including one wearable device that slips into a bra. Even Big Pharma firms like AstraZeneca Plc and Roche Holding AG now have drugs targeting a lung cancer-causing mutation most often found in women from East Asia.
Diseases and their cures can sometimes work differently in different populations, and a one-size-fits-all regimen tailored to the West isn’t sufficient. The approach is cropping up most often in cancer care in Asia, home to tumors that are rare in the West.
“The patients are here, the tumor samples are here, and also the basic know-how,” said Brigette Ma, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who specializes in new drug development. “By acknowledging diversity, not just in cultural and economic needs — by acknowledging diversity in terms of cancer care — we are getting the drugs to where they are needed.”
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