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European Funding Boosts Research into Breast Cancer


As cancer is the main cause of death among women aged 35 to 64 the EU’s Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) has agreed to provide seven million euros for a new Network of Excellence called TRANS-BIG, aimed at addressing the treatment of breast cancer.

TRANS-BIG aims to refine the diagnosis of breast cancer in a way that will enable specialists reduce the number of women being over treated by better identification of those who will benefit from treatment.

“Under the present system many patients are over treated while only a few derive a considerable benefit”, says Dr Robert Leonard from the South West Wales Cancer Institute. “By refining the prognosis for a better definition of who needs treatment we hope to significantly reduce the proportion of women receiving unnecessary chemotherapy and reduce their exposure to toxicity and harmful long-term side effects. At the same time, this will considerably reduce the cost of breast cancer therapy and its burden on European health care systems.

“Indeed, two decades of clinical trials have shown that although chemotherapy increases the survival rate from 2 to 12 per cent, it can also be the cause of secondary cancers, cardiac toxicity, early menopause and a reduction in cognitive functions.”

The TRANS-BIG Network of Excellence, based on the principles of translational research - ’bench to bedside’ and ’bedside to bench’ - will tackle the fragmentation which currently exists in this field of research and accelerate the clinical applications of biological discoveries.

With 39 partners from 21 countries the TRANS-BIG consortium has the critical mass expertise needed to create a fully coherent research force of leading specialists in Europe. This in itself will help overcome the existing fragmentation of effort and give Europe the competitive approach it needs to take the lead in breast cancer therapy internationally.

The first target of TRANS-BIG is the development of its first trial - MINDACT (Microarray for Node Negative Disease may avoid Chemotherapy) - using microarrays to identify the specific molecular make up (’signature’) of a tumour. Although still in its infancy, this technology is expected to allow for a better selection of the patients that actually do need chemotherapy.

“We believe that the results of MINDACT will show that using the new technology to assess risk will result in fewer women being treated unnecessarily”, added Dr Leonard. “This, in turn, will mean that fewer women will suffer from the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy. Not only will the overall quality of life of breast cancer patients be improved, but the health care costs associated with such cancer treatment will be reduced as well, thus providing a significant benefit to society. Additionally, by more accurately choosing patients who do need chemotherapy the final outcome in terms of survival is expected to be better.

By conducting translational research in an integrated way, the project will ensure that the best facilities from the leading cancer research and treatment institutes will be shared, thus decreasing cost and increasing effectiveness.

“Improving the way we diagnose and treat breast cancer is crucial if we are to prevent many women receiving unnecessary, and costly, chemotherapy treatment in the future”, says Claire Horton, FP6UK’s National Contact Point for ’Life sciences, genomics and biotechnology for health. “The fight against cancer is a priority issue for the EU as it is estimated that our increasingly ageing population will lead to an extra 250,000 cancer diagnoses every year in Europe by 2020.

“The current Framework Programme (FP6) runs until 2006 and organisations wanting free information on how to access some of the 19 billion euros available should log on to or call central telephone support on 0870 600 6080.”

Dave Sanders | alfa
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