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Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is an investment, not a cost (Guest blog)

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan has the potential to ignite a revolution in cancer care in the region, positioning the EU as a global leading figure. The unprecedented commitment of €4 billion, plus the success of the implementation of its activities so far (despite being in its infancy) is a positive sign that the EU is committed to its promises for cancer care. With prevention and early diagnosis at the core, we call on the European Commission to continue to ensure that supporting patients living with cancer is treated with an equal urgency. This should be through its own initiatives and by working with Member States to commit to the EU’s vision.

The EU has a responsibility to ensure a high level of human protection by harmonising healthcare strategies[1]. However, the primary responsibility for healthcare lies within Member States. The success and value of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (EBCP) as a framework is hugely dependant on the EU’s ability to encourage and enable Member States to invest in cancer care, from prevention to cure. While inadequate healthcare budgets will face growing pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic[2], investment in oncology across the whole pathway cannot be seen as a burden. It is essential for the EU to encourage European countries to fully understand this opportunity to invest. This will help avoid more cancer cases, and just as importantly, ensure that people with cancer are given the best care possible. The key to this: shifting from a reactive treatment model to an innovative public health approach. Such a system aims to predict and prevent cancer from occurring [3] by proactively intervening with information, care, and support in how patients are diagnosed and treated.

The EBCP was born from a need for coordinated action to tackle what remains the second biggest cause of death in the EU[4]. Through knowledge-sharing and EU-wide programmes, the Plan complements national initiatives to help Member States provide the latest treatments to tackle the entire disease pathway, focusing on prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and quality of life[5].

Since its launch in 2021, several big strides have already been made, with more projects scheduled for the near future, such as cancer screening and increasing vaccinations against human papillomaviruses, and revising related legislation such as on tobacco, air quality and childhood obesity[6].

We welcome the ambitious milestones and developments and call on the European Commission to continue promoting the importance of tackling cancer across the whole care pathway using a “predict and prevent” approach – from better, more targeted screening to improved and quicker access to state-of-the-art, personalised innovations. As EFPIA’s most recent WAIT indicator showed, huge disparities remain in both the rate of and average time to availability for new and innovative oncology treatments across many Member States. The difference is stark: in Germany, for example, patients have access to 41 EU-approved treatments, compared to Estonians or Slovakians who have under 10[7]. Whilst an increased effort from the pharmaceutical industry will be essential, and EFPIA members have committed to important measures to improve current numbers[8], the EU will also have to play its part.

The EBCP highlights how innovations like personalised medicine in cancer care have “radically changed patients’ prognoses”[9]. The EU’s approach will have to be multi-faceted and include a real commitment, through legislative and non-legislative measures, to promote these innovations and convey their value. The upcoming revisions of the Orphan Medicinal Products legislation and the General Pharmaceutical legislation are both critical opportunities to improve quality of care and support innovations rather than negatively impact these. They will have to put people with cancer at the core to ensure that they continue to have access to life-changing, life-saving treatments.

Beyond providing a framework for innovation, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will need to incentivise and support Member States to invest in the Plan if it is to hit its targets. The EBCP has been met positively by countries already aligning their national cancer plans, such as Poland[10] and Spain[11]. Now more countries, many of which already have stretched budgets, make the same commitments.  New policies must have sufficient budget attached, and set out clear metrics and outcome targets, to ensure that policy implementation is not compromised by a lack of resources.

Investment in cancer care along the whole pathway, with a strong focus on research and innovation[12] has social and economic benefits. Maintaining health and recovery means more healthy and functioning members of society. Efficient, person-centred prevention and treatment improves outcomes, not only for the individual, but for their families, their community and wider society.

The EU has taken a big step forward with the EBCP. It has the potential to spark innovation through collaboration, and the EU is uniquely placed to ensure that advancements in treatments such as personalised medicine are brought to people living with cancer, targeting their specific needs. The big challenges will be encouraging Member States to invest in oncology, as well as unleashing Europe’s industry, academia, entrepreneurs, and science leaders to build a world-class oncology ecosystem. The EU will have to liaise closely with each country to ensure that the EBCP is translated into real-world improved outcomes for as many patients as possible. Ultimately the EBCP represents a practical and positive opportunity for Member States to further position high quality cancer care as an investment in society, and not simply a cost.

 

[1] European Parliament (2021). Fact Sheets on the European Union: Public Health. Available at: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/factsheets/en/sheet/49/public-health. Accessed 5 May 2022. 

[2] World Health Organisation Europe (2021). Spending on health in Europe: entering a new era. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/340910/9789289055079-eng.pdf. Accessed 30 May 2022.

[3] Amgen EU (2020). Predict and Prevent Healthcare System. Available at: https://www.amgen.eu/amgen-media-release/our-perspective/predict-and-prevent-approach. Accessed 10 May 2022.

[4] World Health Organisation (2022). Cancer. Available at: https://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/cancer/cancer#:~:text=With%20more%20than%203%20million,in%20Europe%20after%20cardiovascular%20diseases. Accessed 18 May 2022.

[5] European Commission (2021). Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_342. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[6] European Commission (2022). Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: Implementation Roadmap. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/health/system/files/2022-01/2021-2025_cancer-roadmap1_en_0.pdf. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[7] EFPIA (2022). WAIT Indicator. Available at: https://www.efpia.eu/media/636821/efpia-patients-wait-indicator-final.pdf. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[8] EFPIA (2022). The root cause of unavailability and delay to innovative medicines: Reducing the time before patients have access to innovative medicines. Available at: https://www.efpia.eu/media/636822/root-cause-unavailability-delays-cra-report-april-2022-final.pdf. Accessed 5 May 2022. 

[9] European Commission (2021). Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_342. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[10] Onkonet (2020) Narodowa Strategia Onkologiczna – plan walki z rakiem w Polsce. Available at: https://www.onkonet.pl/n_n_nso.php. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[11] Ministerio de Sanidad (2021) Estrategia en Cancer del Sistema Nacional de Salud. Available at: https://www.sanidad.gob.es/organizacion/sns/planCalidadSNS/pdf/Estrategia_en_cancer_del_Sistema_Nacional_de_Salud_Actualizacion_2021.pdf. Accessed 5 May 2022.

[12] European Commission (2022). Improving citizens’ participation in cancer screening programmes and extending them to more types of cancer will help saving lives, EU Chief Scientific Advisors recommend. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/news/improving-citizens-participation-cancer-screening-programmes-and-extending-them-more-types-cancer-will-help-saving-lives-eu-chief-scientific-advisor-recommend-2022-mar-02_en Accessed 5 May 2022.

Gavin Lewis

Gavin Lewis is VP of Global Value and Access at Amgen.
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