Program Profile


A scientific capacity building programme to improve breast cancer diagnostic skills in Asia and the Pacific.

The aim of his initiative is to help integrate HER2 testing of breast and gastric cancer patients for them to receive accurate, timely diagnosis of the disease and appropriate treatment options.

Breast and gastric cancer are among the most common cancers in Asia. The incidence rates are increasing faster than in Western countries due to changes in lifestyle and diet. HER2-positive cancer, a particularly aggressive form that affects about one in five people with breast or gastric cancer, can be treated with Herceptin (trastuzumab). As Herceptin is a targeted treatment that only works in people with HER2-positive cancer, samples of a patient’s tumour must be tested for HER2 before treatment. The accuracy of the test is critical, requiring proficiency in tissue collection and processing, as well as laboratory procedures.

In 2010, Roche launched the SPHERE program (Scientific Partnership for HER2 Testing Excellence) in Asia-Pacific. The aim of this initiative is to help integrate HER2 testing of breast and gastric cancer patients at the point of disease diagnosis. Developed with experts, SPHERE is designed to improve pathologists’ and histo-technicians’ skills around all aspects of tissue-testing processes, starting with HER2 driven disease. This includes:

  • training surgeons in taking and handling tissue biopsies.
  • establishing training and quality control procedures for lab technicians.
  • assisting pathologists in scoring and interpreting results.
  • educating oncologists in the need for reliable HER2 testing and the link to treatment decisions.

In addition, the program educates and shares best practice and facilitates collaboration between all health workers in the management of cancer care.

SPHERE operates in 12 Asia-Pacific markets: Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

As of 2016, over 168,600 women with breast cancer and nearly 74,000 gastric cancer patients have been tested in the SPHERE programme.