Tag Archives: Davos

We say “epidemic”, they say “breakthrough”: reframing the global cancer debate

anna portrait  picThe World Economic Forum, with its mission of “improving the state of the world through public–private cooperation” is where leading international figures from politics, business and civic society meet for informal discussions about the big global threats and opportunities of the day.

Getting cancer onto the Davos 2015 agenda was therefore a milestone, for which much credit should go to Franco Cavalli, a leading medical oncologist who chairs the World Oncology Forum and is a former president of the Union for International Cancer Control.

It should have been a great opportunity to engage global decision makers in discussions that have taken place within the cancer community about developing a response to the relentless global rise in cancer incidence, which is now the biggest cause of death along with cardiovascular disease.

However, while Davos did table sessions on cancer, they were not designed to discuss the strategic policy response the cancer community is calling for, and Cavalli, who had a seat at the table, came away with mixed feelings about what had been achieved.

Framing the debate

Last September, Cavalli was invited to participate in a pre-Davos panel on the topic Cancer: the Next Global Epidemic? to see if this would be suitable for inclusion on the full agenda. Alongside him were Chris Wild, Director of the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African Health Minister, and Helmy Eltoukhy, a “technology pioneer” developing liquid cancer biopsies.

Early feedback was positive – cancer control seemed to have secured its place. However, when confirmation came at the end of December 2014, the focus had radically changed.

Any ambition for global action to support governments to sustainably expand access to early detection, treatment and care, had gone missing.

In its place were two sessions that focused on medical breakthroughs.

One of these, Cancer: Pathways to a Cure, framed the question as: “What breakthroughs in prevention and therapy offer a glimpse of a cancer-free future?

The other, titled A New Era in the Fight against Cancer, asked: “How will breakthroughs in specialized care and immunotherapy transform the future of cancer treatment?”

As Cavalli explains in the forthcoming issue of Cancer World, it proved hard to focus the discussion on what will make most difference to the 12 million people who develop cancer each year. Leading figures from research and the biomedical industry were keener to talk about their achievements, hopes and ambitions than to question the real-world impact of their work.

“It was a very difficult environment to present what we want to achieve,” said Cavalli.

There was an opportunity to discuss a possible policy response in a third session, the Globalization of Chronic Disease, but here the focus was entirely on promoting healthy environments and lifestyles, which doesn’t address the needs of people who develop cancers, many of which are not preventable.

Whose problem?

It is interesting to contrast the technological framing of the cancer sessions, with sessions on infectious diseases, which carried titles like “Confronting the Challenge of Catastrophic Outbreaks” and “Pandemics: Whose Problem?

The words indicate crisis, urgency, action, and a global responsibility – the responsibility world leaders previously accepted in setting up the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has transformed access to information, affordable treatment and care.

As Cavalli argues in the forthcoming article, many leading political figures want a similar coordinated global initiative to tackle cancer, but their voices are not yet heard loudly enough.

His message to Davos? “We’ll be back!”

WOF @ Davos: reigniting the ambitions of the Paris Charter Against Cancer


Martine Piccart, President of the European CanCer Organisation, ECCO

Cancer – the search for medical breakthroughs and responding to global needs – will this year feature for the first time ever on the agenda of the World Economic Forum in Davos.  ESO’s Franco Cavalli will be attending both sessions to promote calls from the World Oncology Forum for bold action to massively extend access to cancer detection, treatment and care, and improve the ‘ecosystem’ for developing and evaluating new therapies. In this guest blogpost, Martine Piccart, President of ECCO,  traces the spirit of the World Oncology Forum back to the Paris Charter Against Cancer, and talks about what she would like to come out of the sessions at Davos.



In 2000, President Jacques Chirac signed the “Charter against Cancer” in front of 200 cancer specialists from all around the world. This landmark event, initiated by Professor David Khayat, stimulated many countries to put in place their “national” cancer plans. Unfortunately, and yet predictably, this collective enthusiasm to seriously address a major threat to the wellbeing of citizens of the earth not only did not reach all countries but progressively died down.

The European School of Oncology revived this crucial movement when it initiated the World Oncology Forum under the chairmanship of Dr Franco Cavalli.  This initiative has again united leading cancer experts from different disciplines and different parts of the world to discuss the greatest challenges of the fight against cancer in the 21 century and prioritise possible solutions to an improved control of the “cancer epidemic”.

ECCO is engaged in similar strategic thinking that builds on its unique and very broad multidisciplinary platform to find more efficient ways to treat and care for cancer patients.

These efforts are critical in a world which is shockingly fragmented in the availability of essential cancer-fighting tools and resources and most importantly:

  • Well-developed cancer registries – too many countries still lack these and, as a result, are unable to monitor the advance of the cancer epidemic and the variable impact of cancer prevention measures or cancer therapies.
  • Adequate radiotherapy equipment (which is even non-existent in some parts of our supposedly modern world).
  • Access to cancer drugs – it is unacceptable to see problems with access to old but effective drugs which no longer generate a “profit” and at the same time witness the growth of a “two-level” patient care reality where only a minority of patients are able to receive the most innovative but very expensive targeted anticancer drugs.  There is a need for prioritization here, as not all these “innovative” drugs have been shown to deliver clinically meaningful benefits.

A revised partnership model involving academia, industry and governments is urgently needed as it will generate a healthier context with shared risks in the fascinating but difficult translation of basic science discoveries into improved and more personalized patient management.  I hope the spotlight on cancer at the World Economic Forum will accelerate the creation of just such a partnership model.

Davos: another milestone in global efforts to control cancer

anna portrait  picWorld leaders from governments, industry and civic society will gather in Davos next week to discuss how to respond to some of the most pressing issues facing the world today.

It is the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, and this year the question of how to stem the rising tide of suffering and death from cancer will be on the agenda for the first time.

Two sessions are scheduled.

The first is an interactive dinner session on the Friday evening (Jan 23rd), titled: Cancer, Pathway to a Cure – What are the breakthroughs in cancer prevention and therapy?

This session offers an opportunity to ask questions about whether the research, development and regulatory “ecosystem” that we are relying on to deliver a cure for cancer is really fit for purpose. Where is the current succession of therapies – many using similar approaches to deliver incremental benefit at ever higher costs – really taking us? How can we reconfigure the business model to promote more innovative, ambitious approaches that can overcome the problem of drug resistance?

The second is a working session on the Saturday morning (Jan 24th), titled: Globalisation of Non-Communicable Diseases.

With governments across the world already committed to reducing preventable deaths from non-communicable diseases including cancer by 25% by 2025 (65th World Health Assembly, 2012), this session offers a welcome opportunity to put on the table the bold actions that must be taken at national and international level if governments are to have any chance of delivering on the commitments they made.

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Doubtless there will be many Davos participants who will bring their own agendas to the cancer sessions. Among them will be Franco Cavalli, chair of the World Oncology Forum – a gathering of leading cancer researchers, clinicians, and policy makers, convened by ESO in 2012 and 2014, in collaboration with The Lancet, that has already spelt out the bold actions that are urgently needed at national and international level to turn the tide on cancer.

These actions are defined in the Stop Cancer Now! appeal and two more detailed appeals, which fit neatly in with the two Davos sessions, on “Speed up progress towards a cure”, and “Treat the treatable”. Cavalli, who played a major role in getting cancer onto the Davos agenda, will be arguing strongly for these policies at the two cancer sessions.

Davos is traditionally important as a forum where constructive conversations can take place between specialists – eg from the world of cancer – who have a deep understanding of a particular problem, and people who have the power and responsibility to take the action required to find solutions.

This year, it is an opportunity to get the message across to world leaders that “business as usual” is not an option in the face of a cancer epidemic that is costing the world $2 trillion each year, and to begin to turn the policies that the cancer community has been calling for into actionable items on the agendas that matter.

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