BRUSSELS, September 22, 2023 — On July 12, 2023, the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) successfully organized the event Understanding Cancer: A Flagship of the European Union at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg. Co-hosted by MEPs Tomislav Sokol (EPP, Croatia) and Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain), this event brought together key stakeholders, policy-makers, and experts to advance European cancer research and to promote the UNCAN.eu initiative, which aims to improve cancer prevention and early diagnosis, cancer treatment and survivorship, paediatric cancers and cancers of the elderly.
The event focused on several key objectives, such as informing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), policy-makers, and stakeholders about UNCAN.eu’s significance, and exploring the challenges and opportunities related to establishing a European Cancer Research Data Hub. The discussions also included the design of a research agenda and funding mechanisms to support collaborative cancer research, addressing inequalities in cancer research, and emphasizing a patient-centric approach.
MEP Tomislav Sokol underscored the importance of the UNCAN.eu initiative, given that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the EU. He highlighted the development of the Cancer Research Data Hub as a means “to bring cancer research in Europe under one roof and to have a better coordination.”
MEP Dolors Montserrat emphasized the urgent need to understand cancer better, warning of a potential 24% rise in cancer cases by 2035 without EU action. She stressed that “UNCAN.eu is the key to the knowledge, we need to understand cancer” and “the need for a clear implementation plan, including sustainability at the National level.”
Prof. Eric Solary (INSERM), UNCAN.eu coordinator, shared insights into the project, highlighting its status as a flagship initiative under the EU Beating Cancer Plan. He shared the history of cancer treatment breakthroughs, and he stressed the importance of “taking advantage of data sciences […] to generate the next breakthrough in cancer prevention, cancer diagnosis, and cancer treatment.”
Patients’ perspectives and expectations
A significant component of the program was the patients’ session, during which videos were presented sharing the personal stories and real-life perspectives of adult and paediatric cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Two of the patients were invited to speak at the event:
- Krisztina Toth, an advanced breast cancer patient living in Hungary and diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39, stressed the fact that “no one is too young to have breast cancer anymore,” therefore personalized prevention and early diagnosis could save lives and improve the quality of life of the patients.
- Niklas Schober, a 17-year-old patient living in Austria, stated that “it is important to include patients and their relatives in cancer research and receive their feedback because they can provide information on the full picture of their pathway, and it is the role of policy-makers to drive change and improve the lives of cancer patients’’. He also outlined that “including expert patient advocates in the policy-making process would make the world a better place.”
European Commission’s perspective
Dr. Barbara Kerstiens (Head of Unit in the EU Commission’s DG Research & Innovation) outlined the intertwined goals and objectives of the EU Beating Cancer Plan and the Mission on Cancer and emphasized the significance of data and digital initiatives in the fight against cancer, such as UNCAN.eu. She also mentioned that the EU Commission aims to involve patients, researchers, and stakeholders in co-creating specific activities to address cancer-related challenges and stated that “the Commission foresees the development of the UNCAN.eu platform, within the framework of the EHDS, to provide a framework for any primary and secondary use of data.”
Panel of experts
A panel discussion moderated by Prof. Josep Tabernero of VHIO and Prof. Christine Chomienne, Vice-Chair of theEU Mission on Cancer, played a pivotal role in fostering meaningful dialogue and sharing invaluable insights. The distinguished panel featured a lineup of experts and thought leaders in the field, including Dr. Michael Boutros from DKFZ, Dr. Péter Nagy of NIO, Dr. Valeria Maria Urbano representing ACC, Ms. Malvika Vyas representing ECPC, Dr. Sara Badreh representing CCI-E, and Dr. Barbara Kerstiens from EC.
The event concluded with final remarks from MEP Dolors Montserrat, who expressed her engagement on behalf of the EU Parliament and the EPP group to elevate health as a top priority on the political agenda Additionally, MEPs Tomislav Sokol (EPP, Croatia), Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain), and Nicolae Ștefănuță (Greens, Romania) officially pledged their support for the UNCAN initiative by signing the commitment.
The event garnered significant attendance, boasting a total of 68 participants. It served as a valuable forum for exchanging knowledge, fostering collaboration, and advocating for UNCAN.eu as a model for revolutionizing cancer comprehension and healthcare.