Europe must invest more in cancer research, finds survey

March 31, 2005

Brussels, 30 Mar 2005

Europe needs to double the amount it spends on cancer research, concludes a new survey on the way cancer research is funded across the EU.

The European Cancer Research Funding Survey, funded by the European Commission, has found that EU Member States spend seven times less per person than the US, that there is insufficient funding for preventive and clinical research, and that Europe is weak in its overall support for cancer research, both centrally and at Member State level.

The survey also noted that more than half of European cancer research is funded by the charitable sector, and that there are opportunities for increased collaboration and cooperation both between funders around the EU, and between different research disciplines.

'The EU is massively behind the USA in its support of non-commercial cancer research,' states Richard Sullivan, Chair of the European Cancer Research Managers Forum. 'This gap is a substantial threat to the ability of the EU to translate cancer research into patient benefit. Also threatened is the ability to recruit and retain clinicians and scientists to work in cancer research, as well as the commercial attractiveness of the EU. It would appear that the problem lies both with a lack of central EU funding and with inequality between Member States, with many failing to support cancer researchers adequately in their own countries,' adds Dr Sullivan.

According to the report, the US spends seven times more per person (17.63 euro versus 2.56 euro) and four times more as a percentage of GDP (0.0578 per cent compared to 0.0163 per cent) on cancer research.

The report also shows enormous variations in spending on cancer research across the EU in 2002 and 2003. For example, the UK spent 388 million euro while Malta spent nothing. The European Commission contributed 90 million euro. As a percentage of GDP, the UK spends the most (0.0267 per cent), followed by Sweden, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

According to Dr Sullivan, the Commission and national governments should urgently address the issue of the huge disparity in cancer research funding between Member States. National governments should increase their own funding, and the Commission should review its funding policy and aim to improve coordination and cooperation across the EU.

'This is a clarion call to the European Commission to increase funding for cancer research. The survey shows that Europe is a second-class continent in terms of cancer research funding. We know that cancer research leads to better cancer care for the patient, and so it is vital that it is properly funded in Europe. I estimate that 10,000 to 20,000 more lives would be saved each year through better patient care if funding for cancer research was increased,' says Gordon McVie, senior consultant to the European Institute of Oncology in Milan.

The survey then goes on to show that the EU concentrates its funding on basic research at the expense of preventive and clinical research. As the report shows, biology receives 41 per cent of all cancer research funding, compared with 20 per cent for treatment and 4 per cent for prevention. In contrast, the US spends 25 per cent on biology, 25 per cent on treatment and nine per cent on prevention.

'Proportionally there is insufficient non-commercial funding for clinical research in Europe. This is worrying, particularly in respect of translational research, and it needs to be addressed urgently; otherwise Europe will fall further behind in the development of novel anti-cancer agents,' says Françoise Meunier, Director General of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC). 'Likewise, new and more effective non-drug interventions and prognostic markers depend on academic clinical trials for their development.

'We need strong, independent clinical research in Europe that is funded by governmental and charitable organisations. Independent research of this kind can investigate the rarer and harder-to-treat cancers for which new treatments and cures are desperately needed, but which are less attractive for commercial organisations to invest in. The under-funding of clinical cancer research, coupled with a disproportionately burdensome regulatory environment, is seriously damaging European cancer research and its competitiveness. This is bad news for Europe, but more importantly, it is bad news for cancer patients,' added Professor Meunier.

Finally, the report notes the identification of 139 non-commercial sources of funding in the whole of Europe (including accession, associate and applicant states and the European Free Trade Area) and that more than half of European cancer research is funded by the non-profit sector. The report therefore recommends that the charitable sector be recognised as an equal partner in all matters, from European cancer policy development to accessing EU research funding. To access the full European Cancer Research Funding Survey, please visit: http://www.ecrmforum.org/

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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