EU supports creation of a European cancer research area

How to build greater coherence in European cancer research? This is the key question to be debated at a conference today, which brings together around 250 representatives from science, the medical profession, government, patient organisations, foundations, industry and European institutions.

The aim of the conference, jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament, is to kick-off the conception of a joint European strategy for cancer research, rallying all actors concerned to improve the coherence and efficiency of their research activities. The conference coincides with the launch, in November 2002, of the EU’s Sixth Research Framework Programme (2002–2006), which has been designed to better structure and integrate the excellent science that Europe already has.

Opening the conference together with the Parliament’s president Pat Cox and Member of Parliament Wim Van Velzen, EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: “Cancer kills more than 750.000 people a year. The EU is ready to invest up to € 400 million in cancer research over the next 4 years. But our investments will only bear fruit if researchers and funding agencies from across Europe work together with common goals. We need to innovate in the way we organise research at European level. Only then will we be able to quickly translate the phenomenal advances in science into practical and meaningful early stage diagnosis and therapies for patients.”

MEP Wim Van Velzen added: “I am convinced that with a common effort and bundling of initiatives, we can do more and better in Europe. Europe has the potential to combat cancer more effectively. Let’s use it.”

Cancer is still a huge burden on European citizens. Although it is difficult to consolidate figures for Europe , it is known that 240.000 new cases are detected in France each year and that cancer is responsible for 24% of all deaths in the UK.
Considerable resources are devoted to fighting cancer throughout Europe. Yet these efforts are not producing the results that health practitioners and citizens might expect, at a time when basic science is advancing fast in understanding the fundamentals of human life. This is partly due to the fragmentation and duplication of research efforts within Member states and across Europe and the lack of co-ordination at European level.

The EU’s Sixth Framework Programme provides the means to catalyse the realisation of a European cancer research area. Thanks to the active support of Parliament, cancer research is a priority within the health research field for which up to €400 million has been earmarked. Although this represents a relatively modest proportion of the funds spent on cancer research throughout Europe, these resources and the new funding tools of the Framework Programme offer opportunities to co-ordinate research efforts undertaken in publicly and privately funded research institutions, to extend research networks and to tackle common problems.

The EU will support researchers to mount large networks of excellence that bring together the best teams of researchers and clinical practitioners to develop and validate new therapies and interventions. Through integrated projects, sufficient critical mass of expertise and resources can be directed at subjects such as the development of relevant pre-clinical tests to evaluate new therapies or the validation of molecular targets for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Research institutes will be able to attract the world’s leading experts in a certain field through a revamped European scheme for the mobility of researchers. The Commission will also support the co-ordination of national and regional research programmes.

A European strategy for cancer research should also explore how the framework conditions for cancer research in Europe can be improved. One case in point is the organisation of multi-national clinical trials. Commissioner Busquin said: “Europe’s diversity in populations, life-style and disease patterns places us in a unique position to advance the understanding and treatment of cancer. But co-ordination is needed between researchers, hospitals and regional or national authorities to deal with diverging regulatory, ethical and other procedures.”

The conference will enable a broad range of stakeholders in cancer research with an opportunity to present their respective roles and expectations and to make proposals to support the co-operation and co-ordination of cancer research in Europe. The Commission will use the outcome of this consultation to propose a strategy for a European cancer research area.

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