Cancer Research

Dr Toh Han Chong

Deputy Medical Director, National Cancer Centre Singapore

Toh Han Chong received the National Outstanding Clinician Scientist Award 2018 for developing and building a cancer immunotherapy program in Singapore. He is on the Cancer Immunotherapy faculty of the European Society of Medical Oncology. And he has published over 120 peer review papers including in the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, Nature Genetics, Lancet Oncology, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Journal of Clinical Investigation, Journal of Hepatology, Molecular Therapy, Clinical Cancer Research and Cancer Gene Therapy.

Cancer research is important to me because …

It is truly standing on the shoulders of giants, marveling at the panorama of the field, the possibilities and the horizon beyond. Being active in cancer research adds a much richer dimension to my work as a medical oncologist looking after cancer patients. And seeing many new advances gives us all so much more hope.

The person who inspired me most in my career was …

My father, Dr. Charles Toh. He was the first cardiologist in Singapore. He turns 91 this year, and still works 7 days a week at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital! He is a big believer that research is vital to improving medicine and healthcare.

If I were starting my career again …

I feel that one’s life and career is not about going back to change anything. The triumphs, setbacks, advancements, disappointments, road blocks, surprises, helping hands and blessings all add to shaping us into stronger and wiser people. Life is like a box of (milk) chocolates! I did dream of being a film maker, writer or an architect as a child, but am happy to be a clinician scientist and medical oncologist today.

The happiest moment in my scientific career was …

Actually the happiest moment was during Christmas time in 2013 when cancer immunotherapy was named Breakthrough of the Year in Science journal. I had been working in this field for 15 years by then, when there was so much doubt about its clinical impact. I felt really happy for my mentors working on cancer immunotherapy for way longer.

The most important publication in cancer research is …

Tough to choose as there are so many! And all these jigsaw pieces add up to create a clearer sharper picture! I would say that the most important publication not just in cancer research but in biomedical science would be the 1953 Nature paper by James Watson and Francis Crick describing for the first time the structure and biological significance of DNA.

The most important research breakthrough is … 

Hopefully happening soon (laughs).

The most important advancement in cancer research that must happen in the next five years …

You should be asking Nobel prize winners and biopharma leaders this question, instead of a lesser mortal like me (laughs). I believe one of the most important strategies is more sophisticated retooling of immune cells for therapy and a deeper understanding of the immune-tumor-microenvironment interface and how they influence one another. The other is how to detect even the smallest quantities of cancer accurately at a much earlier stage. The new frontier technologies in building cancer vaccines have been cross-disciplinary and powerfully applied to the development of COVID-19 vaccines where mass vaccinations have begun globally.

“Don’t think of failure as a foe but as a friend. Learn from setbacks, come back stronger, love the journey of discovery and creating new knowledge, and always have a dream, vision and hope.”
Dr Toh Han Chong

How societies should change over the next 10 years to help control and prevent cancer …

Much wider reaching simple interventions like dietary and lifestyle modifications, stronger national anti-smoking policies especially in countries challenged by a high smoking rate, and investments into exploring preventive drug interventions such as anti-inflammatory agents. In some developing countries, even routine screening such as cervical smear and mammography are lacking.

I would recommend to young scientists …

Don’t think of failure as a foe but as a friend. Learn from setbacks, come back stronger, love the journey of discovery and creating new knowledge, and always have a dream, vision and hope. Find a good and wise mentor who can guide you well. And know how and when to turn back from a blind alley to find a new road. Or even create your own road!

I want to be remembered for …

Being a good physician who has helped others and who has made a ding in the cancer universe.

Dr Toh Han Chong

Dr Toh Han Chong is Deputy Medical Director, National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Associate Professor at the Cancer & Stem Cell Biology Program and SingHealth-Duke Global Health Institute, Duke-NUS and adjunct PI at the Singapore Immunology Network, A*STAR. Dr Toh graduated from the University of London, UK, with an Intercalated Bachelor of Science in “Infection and Immunity” from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School and qualified as a medical doctor from University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Dr Toh obtained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in 2003. He received his medical oncology fellowship training at the Singapore General Hospital, and at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA. He then completed a research fellowship in cancer immunotherapy at the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA. He is an alumni of the Harvard Business School General Management Program.

Thank you!

On behalf of Prof. Toh Han Chong, QIAGEN has donated 500 euros to the DKMS (an organization that arranges stem cell donation in Germany and internationally) to support them in their fight against blood cancer.

For more information, or to register as a potential donor, visit www.dkms.org.

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