Keynote Address by the Director-General of Health at Selangor Research Day, Hospital Ampang 10th November 2014

I would like to thank the Organising Committee for inviting me to be here with you this morning to officially open the Selangor Research Day 2014 and to deliver this address. May I also extend my appreciation to the Organising Committee, Hospital Ampang and Clinical Research Centre (CRC) for successfully organising and hosting a well thought-out programme for the day.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Earlier this year the Malaysian media reported about a study done by the American publication International Living. This publication is widely read by westerners seeking places in the world to live, retire, travel, and invest. According to their study “Global Retirement Index 2014”, Malaysia’s healthcare system is the third best out of 24 countries, beating Spain, Italy, Ireland and New Zealand, among other countries. Let me quote two sentences from their report as examples of what they found about Malaysia.

“The medical expertise of Malaysian healthcare practitioners is equal to or better than what it is in most Western countries”; and

“Malaysia has gained fame as a medical-tourism destination as its healthcare is among the best and cheapest in the world.”

In another case, a global survey of 51 countries conducted by Bloomberg, just released recently in August and entitled “Most Efficient Health Care 2014”, had Malaysia at number 27, ahead of 24 other countries including Denmark, Austria, Belgium and Russia. The United States was at number 44.

I give you these examples because it is important for all of you to know that you are part of a highly regarded healthcare system, indeed you are the gears that make the system work, and the world recognises your abilities and hard work.

Since we as a medical community in Malaysia have come so far, I am sure you will agree that we must keep trying our best to continue improving. Why be happy at No. 3, when we can be No. 1 with more focus and hard work.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

We have many things to be proud of about our healthcare system: for instance, there are many modern hospitals and institutions with the latest hi-tech equipment; we have a large pool of dedicated well-trained doctors and support staff; there is an extensive information and referral system; and the Government is staunchly committed to always placing the patients first. In other words, the infrastructure and processes and systems and manpower are well in place.

However, the issue before us is………..How do we maximise what we already have to further improve the healthcare system, to do further good for the Rakyat?

Based on my own experience, I am convinced that clinical research – instilling a committed research culture in the system – is one of the best ways we can do it.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Clinical research refers to research conducted with human beings, including studies of specimens collected from patients. It encompasses laboratory research on the mechanisms of human disease, translational research in which laboratory and clinical activities are closely aligned, clinical trials of preventive and therapeutic drugs or medical devices, epidemiological, behavioural, and health services and outcomes research.

Clinical research has changed the face of modern medicine. Fifty years ago, at the end of World War II, physicians had little ability to effectively treat or prevent any of the deadliest diseases. Most of the staples of modern medicine we have today were still unknown then. These include antibiotics, vaccines for poliomyelitis and several other severe infections, most hormone replacement and steroid therapies, effective drug therapies for cancer and psychotic illnesses, testing for genetic disorders, coronary bypass surgery, transplanted organs, artificial joints, and the list goes on.

These developments and others like them came about, and became accepted parts of medical practice, because clinical research proved that they were effective and safe.

Clinical research draws its importance from the fact that it is empirical; rather than merely theorizing about what might be effective or what could work. It provides the concrete evidence and hard data upon which a solid foundation is built to drive forward medical innovation and progress, as well as to guide the decisions of medical and healthcare policymakers. Without clinical research, there would be no new and better drugs, treatments and procedures, and we would not have seen the tremendous improvement in patient outcomes that we have now.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

Clinical research has visibly transformed the practice of medicine over the past fifty years, but even greater benefits may be attained in the coming decades because of the many profound developments in the basic sciences – especially in genetics, structural biology, molecular and cell biology, computer science, and imaging technologies. Such developments have actually accelerated the need and demand for clinical research.

Some 84,000 clinical trials were registered with clinicaltrials.gov in 2010. To show you how fast the demand is growing, the number registered this year is expected to be about 159,000 trials. The increase over the recent years has been driven by advances in technology and new areas of development such as biologics, biosimilars and stem cells, as well as an expansion of the contract research industry.

In the light of our existing strengths which I mentioned earlier, if we position ourselves correctly with appropriate strategies and policies and apply ourselves with dedication, then I sincerely believe that Malaysia has a real chance to be at forefront of clinical research at a global level.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

The Ministry of Health recognises that a supportive environment must be in place if we are to develop and entrench a research culture in the nation’s healthcare system. To help create and nurture that environment, we have the Clinical Research Centre (CRC) network, currently spanning 30 hospitals nationwide, to develop and facilitate investigator initiated research or IIR. Then on the other hand, we have Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM), which was established about 2 years ago, to develop and facilitate industry sponsored research or ISR.

I have high expectations for both CRC and CRM. One of their key roles is to grow the pool of investigators and support staff so that more clinical research – both IIR and ISR – will be conducted in Malaysia. They must attract talented people to the challenge of clinical research and provide them with the critical skills and assistance that will enable people to perform first-class clinical research.

If you haven’t yet done so, I would urge those of you who are already engaged in clinical research, as well as those who haven’t yet but are interested to get started, to get in touch with CRC and CRM to find out how they can help you. Indeed, one of their main roles is to assist your passage into clinical research.

The Ministry of Health also recognises that in order to conduct first-class clinical research, there must be sound and up-to-date infrastructure in place. Accordingly, the Ministry will continue investing in facilities, equipment and personnel as key components of our overall strategy to boost Malaysia’s capacity for clinical research.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

The theme for this year’s Selangor Research Day is “Advance with Research”, which I feel is most appropriate. Most certainly, research holds the promise of enabling us to further improve our healthcare system for the benefit of the Rakyat, and on an individual level, it helps us to become more knowledgeable and capable physicians, nurses or other healthcare providers. Certainly the future lies in research, and we must all “Advance with Research”.

On that note, I have the honour and great pleasure of officially opening the Selangor Research Day 2014.

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