Non-communicable diseases including cancer are emerging as major public health problems in India. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, the estimated number of incident cases of cancer in India for the year 2022 was found to be 14,61,427.
In India, one in nine people are likely to develop cancer in his/her lifetime, the study pointed out. Moreover, lung and breast cancers were the leading sites of cancer in males and females, respectively.
HealthCare Global Enterprises Ltd (HCG), a listed company, is one of the largest cancer care networks in India. The company has 22 comprehensive cancer centers across India and Africa. During the 6th edition of Advantage Healthcare India (AHCI) 2023, a G20 co-branded event, Financial Express.com got the opportunity to speak to Raj Gore, CEO, HealthCare Global Enterprises Limited and he talked about to HCG’s growth plan for FY2023-24, advancement in cancer care in India, and role of technology in cancer care among others. Excerpts:
According to you how cancer diagnosis, care and treatment has evolved over the years and with respect to India?
Today, thanks to our, new innovations and our ability to invest in modern medical technology…in India, we have all the latest whether it’s robotic surgery, in diagnostics, genomics, molecular imaging, digital pathology, targeted therapies, immunotherapies. On the radiation side, CyberKnife adoptive radiotherapy.
So, not only do we have the latest, today, we’re able to deliver outcomes, which are comparable to the globally reputed Cancer Institutes at a fraction of the costs. So, we’ve adopted technology, we’re delivering outcomes, and we are democratizing care, which is what India needs. And if you look at HCG’s role, this is a company founded by a group of oncologists in 1989. We started our first tier three, tier four center in 2003, when even the big players were hesitating in investing cancer in big cities.
Today, we have 18 cities, and nine states, and a third of our centers are in tier two and tier three cities. We are able to create the largest pool of patients in the private sector. So I feel HCG really played a role of a pioneer who understood how cancer is retreating. How opportunities in cancer market in India, how to evolve a model or specialty which requires a lot of investment in our pursuit of Indian needs. We’ve come a long way.
HCG has been a pioneer on various levels. Recently, it became Mercury-free. According to what more needs to be done to make this industry more sustainable and environmentally friendly?
There are various causal factors of cancer. People are still not aware about the risk factors. Tobacco alone causes almost 35 to 40% of cancer mortality in India. I think no matter how many hospitals or infrastructures we create, unless we start attacking the demand side which is why people get cancer, you will not be able to provide more supply of infrastructure and then cop the demand.
We are advocating strict prohibition of tobacco…it’s important that when we look at ourselves as leader in oncology.
Could you please highlight what are upcoming goals with respect to growth and business in the current financial year and also how you are planning to achieve your targets this year?
Our business in the last eight quarters, every quarter has been our highest here…there is no other peer who has such strong growth every quarter. Our hospital conducts a lot of outreach programmes to create awareness and screening. We will continue that…that’s what we do. We will continue to invest in bringing the latest technology to India. So, few months ago, we launched adaptive radiotherapy and it is backed by AI. It adapts to the shrinking size of the tumour every time we give treatment with it so that normal tissues around it don’t get affected. We have announced two new hospital projects in Ahmedabad. Bangalore, as a city is growing rapidly…So we are moving on to take HCG care closer to patients.
Similarly, in Whitefield, we are putting a daycare oncology center focusing on women. So it will have daycare surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, we are very excited. In the next three year, in total we’ll add about 300 beds…9-10 radiation equipments, linear accelerators, four robotic surgery equipment. So, it is exciting, and this is just organic growth. We are also looking at one or two acquisitions of cancer centers across India.
With respect to cancer care, what role can AI play especially in a country as diverse as India?
These things will contribute more to the advancement of patient care than cancer…there are 100 types of cancers. Earlier the cancer used to be defined by the site of origin. So, earlier, you know, when you do radiation, you treat a patient and you do a PET scan, a CT scan, and you map the affected area…now, every time the patient is in the machine, it will highlight the issues on its own. The AI keeps learning. So, now, it’s so personalized and so adaptive, every time you wish, that was impossible without processing, genomics data.
How the cancer market of India is growing? Could you please highlight some of the driving factors of this growth over the years?
So every year, we diagnose about 19-20 lakh new cancer patients. It is an estimate based on cancer registries. Only 10 percent of India’s population is covered under cancer registry. So we are trying to create awareness for all states to allow cancer registries, more hospitals to adopt cancer registries, and cancer registry events, as it captures certain information like what type of cancer is this age, etc. So, we start learning more about Indian population and their disease progression.
Most of the protocols that are developed based on Western data set but we have our own unique genetic pool. We have all the capabilities or doctors or scientists who go abroad and develop these tools. Today we have all the technology but we are not doing so we are trying to promote you know more and more data so that we understand cancer in the Indian context…so all these factors are affecting people.
What are the challenges that India’s cancer market is facing? According to you, how these challenges can be turned into opportunities?
We need to open more comprehensive cancer centres across India…only around 170 centre out of 640 are comprehensive cancer centres. Cancer treatment is expensive…we need to encourage people to invest in it…the government can also help by reducing the duty. Lot of reagents, lot of drugs have custom duty etc…they need to be reduced…so that India starts innovating…India starts democratising access to cancer care especially in small cities. We are having conversations with government…we are making progress but there is a lot to do. But again, it will boil down to awareness, prevention, and early detection. This will help us in reducing the cancer burden of the country.