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The need for cancer research

Why do we need more research on cancer?

PMID: 34560371


Cancer in EU: 1.2 million death per year (25% of the total number of death)


Cancer in EU: 28.3 % of men’s deaths; 21.8% of women’s deaths (21.8 %)


Standardized death rate for cancer iN EU: 252.5 per 100 000 inhabitants


Median age at cancer diagnosis in men: 65


Median age at cancer diagnosis in females: 74

After 170 years of intense investigation to decipher biological bases of cancer and despite individual initiatives by Europe’s Member States to further understand and better prevent, detect and treat this disease, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in Europe and one of the greatest health challenges facing Europe. In about half of patients, the disease resists the existing therapeutic options. Currently, 1.2 million people die from cancer every year across Europe.

More than 6,000 disease victims are children and adolescents, cancer being the leading cause of child mortality from disease in Europe, and over half a million of European citizens are childhood cancer survivors dealing with long-term effects of the disease and its treatment.

The incidence of most cancers increases dramatically as we age. In 2017, the EU rate for persons aged 65 years and over was 13 times as high as it was for persons aged less than 65 years. With increasing life expectancies, cancer has become the number one cause of death in both males and females aged 60-79 years in EU, a trend that will continue with Europe’s changing demographics. Unhealthy lifestyles and working conditions are other recognized causes of cancer.

An analysis by gender shows large differences in standardised death rates for cancer iN EU. In 2017, for men the rate (335.9 per 100 000 male inhabitants) was 73 % higher than that for women (193.9 per 100 000 female inhabitants).

Therefore, new level of investment to better prevent, diagnose and treat cancer is an urgent need. Taking advantage of data and data sciences may represent the much-awaited 2030 breakthrough.

A historical perspective on cancer research

Starting with Hippocrates, cancer has been considered as a retention of humor for about 2,500 years. Modern oncology started in the middle of the XIXe century when improvements in microscopy permitted Rudolf Virchow to formulate the cellular theory of cancer. In the same time, development of anaesthesiology promoted cancer surgery that still remains frequently the first treatment of cancer.

In the last 170 years, a technological projection generated a therapeutic breakthrough every 50 years

At the end of the XIXe century, the discovery of X-rays (Wilhelm Roentgen, 1885) and radium (Pierre & Marie Curie, 1898) translated within a few years into anti-cancer radiation therapy

Then, the development of chemical synthesis led to the transformation of mustard agents and the emergence of chemotherapeutic agents in the midlle of the XXe century (Louis S Goodman and Alfred Gilman, 1946).

At the beginning of the current century, following the progresses made in cancer genetics with the discovery of chromosomal abnormalities (Peter Nowell, 1960) and oncogenes (Harold Varmus & Mike Bishop, 1976), the first therapy targeting a cancer specific genetic aberration was developed.

Finally, after 120 years of trials using bacterial or viral infection (William Cooley, 1891), cancer vaccines, cytokine therapies and adoptive cell transfer, immune checkpoint blockers (Leach et al, 1996) that reinvigorate antitumor immune responses have become in 2010 one of the most important therapeutic option in cancer treatment.

Data sciences: the next breakthrough to lever up cancer research

We bet on data sciences as the technology that will generate the next breakthrough in cancer management. Recent years are characterized by the generation of previously unimaginable and exponentially growing amounts of data. The development of new data generation and computational technologies to integrate high resolution images, multi-omic data, and structural biology with multidimensional biological information generates innovative approaches for empirical analysis of tumour development and progression in tissue ecosystems. Results of these analyses will generate a comprehensive and dynamic view of how cancers initiate, develop and spread in the host as well as mechanistic questions and new therapeutic approaches to significantly reduce disease burden.