From prevention to treatment: new hope for genomics in the global fight against cancer

16 Oct 2023
From prevention to treatment: new hope for genomics in the global fight against cancer

New hope in the fight against cancer worldwide emerged at a workshop on harnessing genomics at the World Health Summit in Berlin on 15 October, as leading international figures explored how to bring innovative preventive and diagnostic tools to populations in the Global South.

Developing countries have a chance to fast-track their adoption of life-saving technologies by learning from the mistakes that the EU has made in its own implementation, it was suggested.

Many lower and middle-income countries are currently facing even more severe consequences from the general rise in cancer incidence than the developed world, because their health services are often poorly resourced and insufficiently effective. 

But the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine is now offering a body of work that highlights possible short-cuts to permit countries to profit from European experience, and avoid some of the barriers and delays it has suffered.

The European approach, while well-intentioned and mobilising large resources, has hindered tackling cancer and other diseases, because of incoherences and misalignments in the way it has created the crucial legislative and regulatory infrastructure, said Denis Horgan, Executive Director of EAPM.

One of EAPM’s core research areas has been support for the uptake of innovative technologies in different regions across the world, as evidenced by many of its recent publications, he told this session at the Summit.

EAPM is also now finalising individual country factsheets benchmark progress in Asia, Latin America, Middle East and Africa, he added.


The potential of innovation

The workshop was an enquiry into how innovative approaches can provide new solutions for cancer, particularly for the developing world.

The discussions ranged across the importance of developing prevention and cancer research in Africa - and where the obstacles lie, the potential of digital health or biobanking to promote implementation and effectiveness, and how poorer countries can take advantage of some of the painful learnings in the developed world in order to leapfrog to smarter implementation models.

As cancer incidence rises, it is no longer feasible to rely on conventional approaches.

Global access to advanced technologies holds the potential for a leap forward in prevention and treatment.

But global access is still uneven, and generally scanty.

Innovations to improve cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment exist, but they are still insufficiently deployed, because of concerns over potential upfront costs and institutional hesitation.


Learning from Europe’s mistakes

Horgan explained how missteps in numerous EU legislative initiatives over recent years have generated nearly as many problems as they have solved.

Regulations on crucial areas including clinical trials, data protection and diagnostics have introduced confusion and conflicts in the operating framework for the European health sector, because of inconsistencies, ambiguities or oversights that have necessitated delays in implementation, deferrals of deadlines, and even corrective legislation.

The consequences in Europe have included obstacles and discouragement for innovators to launch new products and technologies, and widespread hesitation over take-up among health services.

 “Countries in other parts of the world can learn from the EU experience,” said Horgan.

Many of them are now on the point of developing legislation and formalising their approaches to these new technologies, and others are still to move in that direction, he said.

“EAPM is now able to provide the fruits of its evidence-based and informed research. This can allow other countries not only to catch up but to leapfrog over many of the challenges in preparing their healthcare systems to make the best use of techniques such as NGS and liquid biopsy,” he went on.

“Of course, safeguards are needed to ensure data is empowered and not restrained so that it is patient-centric and citizen-centric,” Horgan insisted.

Data must be patient-centric so that patients are given the gateway to a good life by getting an early diagnosis and the chance for early treatment. 

And it must be citizen-centric so that research can be undertaken from data in ways that allow it to be translated into healthcare systems.   


Overcoming challenges in cancer care

Other speakers in this exploration of how to bring innovation into the prevention and diagnosis of cancers in developing countries, including eminent international figures including Walter Ricciardi, Chair of the EU’s Horizon Europe Mission on Cancer, whose keynote remarks highlighted the challenges still to be overcome in advancing cancer care worldwide.  

Kirsten Tief-Kury from ThermoFisher Scientific highlighted that genomics is increasingly ready to be used to improve health and it can provide a treasure-house of opportunity.

It is now beginning to move on from specialist areas such as the diagnosis of rare diseases and the selection of appropriate cancer therapies, towards the fuller integration of genomics across healthcare systems that will permit wide use of personalised medicine to improve healthcare and reduce costs

Other speakers and attendees included Zisis Kozlakidis, Head of Laboratory Services and Biobanking, at IARC/WHO, Radja Badji, Director of Qatar Genome,  Jumi Popoola, Co-founder & Chief Scientific Officer of,  Elmar Nimmesgern, Interim Executive Director Global Health EDCTP3,  Heyo Kroemer, CEO of Charite, and Nicola Normanno, President of the International Quality Network for Pathology 

The EAPM factsheets are scheduled for launch in November in the European Parliament. 

Before then, EAPM will follow up these themes at the next of its traditional EU Presidency conferences, being held in Madrid on 19-20 October.

To register, please click HERE to register and to view the agenda, click HERE

This will also build on the work from the Can.

HEAL conference in Berlin on Oct 9th/10th, 2023


Background: The chief victims of the global threat of cancer 

Countries classified with Low or Medium Human Development Index are projected to suffer the greatest relative increases in cancer incidence by 2040, with profoundly negative socio-economic effects.

The global economic cost of cancers is expected to rise to $25.2 trillion from 2020 to 2050.

But prevention - the most powerful tool in the fight against cancer - is being overlooked, with its budget as low as 3% of overall health budget in OECD countries, and notably, even less in the Global South.

Poorer countries also suffer more from the impact of the cancer epidemic because of the frequently lower level of healthcare systems.


Critical tools

Early detection and diagnosis, the other critical tools in the fight, have a huge contribution to make in permitting the possibility of timely and appropriate treatment, boosting survival and reducing morbidity - with consequent positive impacts on the overall burden on healthcare budgets and economic activity

Prominent among these new techniques and technologies is the growing discipline of genomics, which is capable of delivering new, evidence-based solutions to both prevention and diagnostics.

Large inequalities still exist everywhere in accessing genomic diagnostic tools, but developing countries could avoid some of the errors that have impeded access in the developed world, to move more smoothly to wider access.

Source: The World Health Summit