The reason why we wanted the project is that we had the Eurocan Plus project initiated by the previous Commissioner aiming at a complete analysis of European cancer research. And we found out then that the fragmentation is the main problem and we also identified the most important reasons for fragmentation, that was lack of critical mass in the different sectors but also a suboptimal translation of cancer research. So the Eurocan Plus project helped us to identify the most important factors behind the fragmentation and that is lack of critical mass and also a suboptimal translation of cancer research. So we came to the conclusion that the problem could be solved by creating a platform for translational cancer research by linking comprehensive cancer centres and basic preclinical cancer research centres in Europe. That was the suggestion and that was called from the European Commission and we responded to the call and we got the financiation for five years.
The main aim is to structure translational cancer research, to structure and show also, with a few examples, that structuring will make it possible to run research which is impossible other ways. We wanted to structure the translational cancer research for prevention, early detection and therapeutics to be more or less comprehensive.
What are the major points coming out of the program so far?
So far we have activities in all work packages. We have work packages covering the translational research continuum from basic research into preclinical and clinical research into outcomes research. So we follow the pathway from discoveries until adoption in the healthcare system. So we have now good activities in all those work packages. We have it for prevention, we have it for early detection and we have it for therapeutics.
Do you think the fragmentation will be reduced?
Yes, we must come up with the fragmentation issue, it’s the main problem; we must improve international collaboration. We must also support all the ideas that you would have with financiation or funding of European cancer research in a different way. As it is now, when you have funding in the different nations we knew from the Eurocan Plus project that you have a lot of iterations of funding and projects, similar projects in many countries. We need to collaborate internationally in order to have an acceptable critical mass and have more competency in the projects.
Can you tell us about health economics?
The interesting thing is that if you look from the translational cancer research continuum you have the early translational research bridging basic and clinical research. Here you have a gap which we have discussed for years now and where we try to find good ways to bridge and implement the information from basic biology into clinical research. That is very visible everywhere and people have worked with us decades. What has not been visible is the late translation in cancer research because when the clinical research is there and you have an outcome from the clinical research then you need to implement it in the healthcare system. Then that is not done automatically, for that you need to go into assessment of clinical effectiveness, you need also to go into health economy and you cannot go into health economy unless you have the information about clinical effectiveness. Clinical effectiveness is a part of outcomes research so what is mandatory and what is absolutely an unmet need in Europe and everywhere today is structures for outcomes research where you can assess for clinical effectiveness, let’s say for new anti-cancer agents, new other types of treatments, and then link it to health economy. Then you will have solid information about the effect in the clinical setting of innovations and then you can prioritise and see what are the effects, to what cost ,and you will have the possibility also to develop cost effectiveness along the whole clinical pathway for a patient group.
Do you think 5 years is long enough for this type of project?
Of course it’s not; it’s not. This is a time period when we structure important parts of the translation in cancer research. We have a mission from the European Commission to make this consortium sustainable so therefore we have a separate work package where we work also with sustainability issues and will try to find ways to continue with the consortium after the five years. That is, of course, a challenge but that is within the project.