Cancer – Acting Together Now (Guest blog)
Cancer is not one disease, but a constellation of diseases of immense complexity. A single approach will not be enough to meet the challenge.
The mindset shift we all witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic – when trust, collaboration and coordination amongst all stakeholders and across institutions was paramount – is now required to control cancer in Europe.
Cancer is a policy priority for Europe. It is a societal issue, fast becoming the number one killer disease. Morbidity and mortality from cancer have a deep social and economic impact, the cost burden of premature cancer-related death already far exceeds that of cardiovascular disease.
Cancers are killing people in the prime of their lives: while they are wage earners supporting their families; while they are raising children; and while they are building toward their dreams and aspirations in life. It has profound effects on family stability and future well-being.
That is why, back at the beginning of 2020, we welcomed the Von der Leyen Commission’s commitment to making cancer a flagship initiative. And, although we hoped the plan would be presented this year, we understand the reasons for postponing it, and trust that it is only delayed, rather than de-prioritised.
While COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end at some point, cancer will remain the rising issue. Therefore, we trust the EU institutions to keep working on the EU Beating Cancer Plan, designed to reduce the number of cancer cases and deaths, and improve the quality of life of patients. We hope it will be driven by the compelling vision of reducing disparities in survival between Member States with an emphasis on early detection and intention to cure.
It should be visionary, holistic, cross-disciplinary, cross-sectorial and cross-ministerial. The Plan must align resources with the burden of the disease, taking a broader societal view and building on what already exists. We hope the approach taken will ensure a strong connection and synchronization with National Cancer Plans, facilitating the sharing of best practices amongst Member States, complementing national initiatives and filling gaps of a supra-national nature – such as data infrastructure, registries connectivity, and AI for health.
By boosting data and digital in health, it can create an environment that incentivizes citizens’ ownership of their health/data, builds trust, and increases confidence in virtual channels. Our aspiration is for a Plan that should place a prominent focus on patients’ perspectives to drive progress in areas of unmet need and research gaps, as well as improvement in time to access to care.
Prevention will be an important element of controlling the burden of cancer since less than 40% of cancers are preventable. However, primary prevention of cancer alone will not address the problem. In fact, 66% of cancer cases would still occur (Tomasetti et al, 2017). In other words, cancer affects the whole society and a cancer plan has to care about the healthy, the ones who have signs of cancers, people with cancer and cancer survivors.
We welcome the decision to connect the EU Beating Cancer Plan with the Horizon Europe Mission on Cancer. We trust this will be coupled with a rapid regulatory change in parallel with scientific advances, rather than taking a reactive approach to new insights at the end of the research process. Regulators should embrace flexible approvals, adaptive trial design supported by science, modelling, (real world) data and AI to fill gaps supported by available collaborative evidence.
We encourage the European Commission to act as a broker and safeguard multi-stakeholder dialogue. It is well placed to protect fragmentation and to keep us all accountable for delivering the Plan. And delivering does not work without measuring progress and equal cancer care. Together with the European Cancer Patients Coalition and the European Cancer Organisation, we proposed a cancer dashboard which makes visible to each EU citizen what we want to change and which holds us all together accountable.
We, as industry representatives, are ready to collaborate, bringing to the table our expertise and contributions as innovators. As global players we want to ensure the EU remains a hub for research and innovation. And we care about access: there is no innovation if it does not reach everyone who needs it. Equally, as employers with a large footprint, we can contribute to facilitate social programmes – prevention, screening and returning to work.
Together, patients, citizens, EU institutions, academia, and industry in Europe can lead the way in understanding cancer and collectively find a way to tackle it. Then we will have done something great for society and built a foundation for tackling other non-communicable diseases, given that measures and approaches taken to tackle cancer will be beneficial for other disease areas too.