A new initiative designed to inform and educate policymakers at national, European, and global level about the needs of the oncology community was launched at Europe's largest cancer congress, ECCO 15 - ESMO 34, in Berlin today.
Professor Alexander Eggermont, President of the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO), told the conference that the European Academy of Cancer Sciences would help keep the interests of cancer patients at the forefront of the policy agenda, and avoid policy decisions that had a negative impact on the practice of oncology medicine.
The Academy will be a virtual body, grouping together representatives of all cancer disciplines with outstanding scientific and academic backgrounds to provide knowledgeable and unbiased advice on matters of policy and priorities at the national, European and global level under the auspices of ECCO. "We hope it will become an important reference point for policymakers and professionals in the field of oncology research and oncology care, where they can go to ask questions and receive suggestions and advice. It will be an independent organism, with the secretariat provided by ECCO, with whose Policy Committee it will work closely in the beginning," said Prof Eggermont.
"We hope that, by keeping a close eye on policy developments that might affect cancer and offering expert advice to those responsible for decision-making, we will be able in future to avoid some of the recent decisions that have had so much potential to harm cancer patients and the oncology community. For example, it is generally acknowledged that the Clinical Trials Directive has had a catastrophic effect on the independent evaluation and comparison of drugs by academic clinical researchers. It has greatly reduced the amount of academic clinical research in oncology in Europe in all treatment categories (surgery, radiotherapy and systemic medicinal therapy) and in their combinations. In this case the academic community simply woke up too late, when the damage was already done," he said.
Another example cited by Prof Eggermont was the Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive, which could have stopped all MRI scanning in Europe. "Eight million MRI patient examinations per year are carried out in Europe," he said, "and the Directive set limits to occupational radiation exposure which meant that anyone working or moving near MRI equipment would breach them, thus making it possible for them to sue their employers. Luckily, in this case, oncologists and other specialists who would have been affected reacted in time - but only just. These are the kind of situations that we hope could be avoided by early input from the Academy."
A founding group of 114 Academy members has been set up. Thirty of these members were chosen on the basis of their experience and reputation, and in turn they voted for the other members. Among the distinguished experts co-opted in the first place are Nobel prize-winners Professor Harald zur Hausen and Sir Paul Nurse; leading epidemiologist Sir Richard Peto; and the eminent Italian cancer surgeon Professor Umberto Veronesi.
Members of the ECCO Board and Policy Committee also belong to the founding group. Elected membership is a life-long distinction, and the Academy hopes to introduce new blood by electing up to 50 new members per year.
Requests to the Academy for information and advice may come from many quarters - patient organisations and health care professionals, as well as policy makers and politicians. "The ECCO Policy Committee will initially flag up issues where the Academy could make use of its expertise," said Professor Eggermont "but at a later stage we hope that they will be able to interact directly with policymakers, for example with the European Commission about the content of future Framework Programmes for research."
"Members are excited about what they see as a genuine intellectual challenge, responding to real needs," said Professor Eggermont. "In the first place the Academy will put its collective intelligence to preparing a paper on what needs to be done to boost cancer research in Europe. The paper, which we hope will be produced in the next year, will look at barriers to research and how they can be addressed, as well as proposing priorities.
"We are optimistic that this new initiative will have a positive effect on all those associated with cancer, be they patients, doctors, scientists or carers, and we look forward to the time when cancer takes its rightful place in the policy agenda," he said.
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