Philippe Busquin: An integrated European approach to cancer research, Conference "Towards greater coherence in cancer research" Brussels, European Parliament - 19 September 2002

September 20, 2002

Brussels, European Parliament - 19 September 2002

Mr Chairman,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to open this conference and I wish to thank the European Parliament, and in particular Mr Van Velzen, for hosting this gathering and providing the decisive driving force for holding it.

This is the first major event organised on a specific research topic in the new Framework Programme.

With Parliament's support, cancer research has been included as one of the priorities in this Framework Programme, which will be able to allocate up to €400 million to this subject.

This budget is, of course, extremely modest in relation to the amounts allocated every year by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Health in the USA.

The €400 million will never be able to cover all the needs for research.

One of the primary reasons why cancer research is one of the priorities in this Framework Programme is that it is, par excellence, a field in which quality research exists in Europe, but which also suffers from structural weaknesses.

Examples of what I mean by structural weakness in Europe include spreading resources too thin, compartmentalisation of the national systems, diverging research policies and strategies, and a hard and fast divide between pure research and clinical research.

Expansion and fuller harnessing of the European dimension can help to combat these weaknesses by correcting the many effects of the national divisions in Europe.

Consequently, the objective of our conference today is not to discuss the details of specific projects which should be supported by the Framework Programme nor to discuss the responses which we received to the call for expressions of interest published in March, almost 300 of which were on cancer.

The objective of our conference is to look - together - at how we can innovate in the way research in Europe is organised and take highly practical measures to create a true European cancer research area.

In other words, how can we make the best use of the new instruments and resources provided so that they have a multiplier and structuring effect in this field of research which is so important both to promoting scientific excellence in Europe and to citizens' quality of life.

The new Framework Programme has been designed to help us along this path and I can see many opportunities in it:

  • For the first time, the Framework Programme will explicitly cover clinical research. It will therefore be possible to bring together scientists working on pure research and on clinical research in extensive networks of excellence and integrated projects in order to convert scientific breakthroughs into applications and action to the benefit of patients faster.

  • It will also be possible to support smaller scale projects to look into specific aspects of cancer research.

  • The substantial increase in the budget for researcher mobility, combined with the changes in the grant procedures, should give you the means to attract the best researchers in the world.

  • The most innovatory aspect, and the one closest to our concerns today, is that the Sixth Framework Programme will be able to provide support for networking national and regional research programmes and coordination between research managers, whether in national administrations or in research agencies, foundations or institutes.
As the first step along this path, last year the Commission launched the European cancer research forum. We are completely open to any practical suggestions and ideas which could help us all, together, to speed up creation of this European cancer research area.

The European dimension in research conditions

However, the European dimension should be exploited not just in relation to research proper.

It should also be exploited in relation to all the framework conditions surrounding research.

Last week, the Commission adopted its first communication on possible action to achieve the objective of the Barcelona Summit as regards research, namely to raise public and private sector spending on research to 3% of the GDP by 2010.

Achieving this objective requires action in the context of many different policies.

For cancer research in particular, the framework conditions are:

  • The practical and regulatory conditions regarding the carrying-out of clinical tests. The problem is not new and does not arise only with cancer. However, it has a particularly high profile in this area and, despite the major efforts to overcome it, is still far from being resolved. Care must be taken to ensure that the range of national and local rules for the protection and welfare of patients does not create a bureaucracy which adds nothing for the patient but considerably hinders research.

  • The provisions concerning intellectual property, which have not been harmonised to any great extent and, in general, are not very conducive in Europe to innovation and the exploitation of the results of scientific work, more particularly by researchers or in association with them.

  • The ageing of the research population (one-third of researchers will retire in the next few years), and the prospects of their replacement are not very encouraging. How can more young people be attracted to scientific careers and how can our laboratories be made more attractive to researchers from elsewhere in the world.

  • Generally speaking, Europe is confronted with a serious challenge to increase the social application of research through a sustained and innovative dialogue between science and society.
All these issues call for the mobilisation of researchers, research managers and politicians at all levels to work together on a European scale.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European cancer research area will be what you make of it.

The European Commission is there to act as a catalyst and to support through the Framework Programme and its political influence, actions and collaborations that have a structuring and structural impact.

What the Commission and the European Parliament expect from this conference is the emergence of a genuine desire to work together on a European scale and a first identification of priorities and avenues of approach to achieve a genuine European cancer research area.

I thank you for agreeing to attend this conference, I wish you well in your work, and I will invite Mr Kleihues to report on the proceedings at the end of the day.

DN: SPEECH/02/408 Date: 19/09/2002

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