Potocnik calls on Member States to work together on cancer research

EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik has called on the EU’s Member States to work more closely together on research to combat cancer. The creation of a coherent approach is still
‘very much a work in progress’ he said at a conference in Brussels on 15 November. Perhaps his announcement that Slovenia is to make cancer and cancer research priorities when it takes over the
Presidency of the EU Council on 1 January will help.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the European Union, said the Commissioner. By the age of 75, one in three men and one in four women will be directly affected by the disease.
Another 2 million people are diagnosed with a form of cancer every year, and around 3,000 Europeans die from cancer every day.

While a coherent Europe-wide approach to cancer research is still under construction, the EU has been investing money in relevant research activities since 1988. Funding since then has steadily
increased from ?18 million to ?450 million for the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), which ran from 2002 to 2006. A similar amount is available under FP7, and ?70 million has already been
released since the first call for proposals.

The Commission’s emphasis is on ‘translational research’ – turning basic knowledge into clinical applications, said Mr Potocnik. Projects funded under FP7 will ‘exploit the European dimension
by combining resources and complementary competences from several European countries, and by encouraging the comparison of results and data from the whole of Europe’.

Additional research is being funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Innovative Medicines Joint Technology Initiative (operational from 2008). Three research infrastructures in
the field of medical research have been approved for funding. All of them are relevant to cancer research, said Mr Potocnik. They are: a European clinical research infrastructures network for
biotherapy facilities; a European bio-banking and bio-molecular resources infrastructure; a European advanced translational research infrastructure.

But 95% of all research spending in Europe happens at national level, not European level. There are already plans for an ERA-NET (which involves the coordination of national research
programmes) on cancer. The initiative will focus on using cancer registries for research purposes.

The Commissioner applauded the decision in Slovenia to make cancer and cancer research priorities during the Slovenian Presidency of the EU, and announced a conference next year. The event will
address issues such as the structure and coordination of cancer research in the EU; increasing cancer research funding; translating knowledge into applications; and including patients in the
process of cancer research.

‘2008 promises further steps forward in our efforts to defeat the blight of cancer,’ said the Commissioner.

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