Tag Archives: global

The EU’s cancer community: better with the UK?

Marc Beishon

Marc Beishon

Next week the people of the UK will vote on whether to remain in the European Union or leave it, a decision that could have far reaching implications for the future of the European ‘project’. In the UK, there has been increasingly bitter exchanges between the two camps about whether the country (or indeed the four constituent countries) will be better or worse off if there is a leave decision, and many misleading and often untrue financial figures have been put forward as ‘fact’.

While there has been little debate on what general shape the EU will be in following a UK exit, there has been some revealing discussion about some aspects of European-wide cooperation, notably research, and cancer research in particular. There has often been debate about how good Europe is at uniting cancer research to rival the powerhouse that is the US, and now some are arguing that the UK, as the leading biological research nation in Europe, may undermine progress if it were to leave the EU, and could also harm its own efforts to raise healthcare standards.

Writing in Lancet Oncology, five senior cancer and biomedical researchers, including Nobel laureate Paul Nurse, note that the UK has learnt about better care from other European countries, given it has lagged in outcomes for some time; has participated in more than 80% of cancer projects funded by the EU’s 7th framework programme; and generally, “the benefits of these collaborative European approaches so far have been major and can still increase, and are greatly facilitated by the EU”. But while much collaboration should continue, UK researchers may not be able to access EU funding, and free movement of cancer researchers between the UK and Europe could be halted.

Also in Lancet Oncology, Josep Tabernero and, Fortunato Ciardiello – the latter the current president of the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) – argue that the broader aims of spreading research monies from the Horizon 2020 seven-year science programme, the biggest EU research programme in history, around Europe could be at risk from ‘Brexit’. They say too that the European Medicines Agency, currently based in London, would have to find a new home. “Post-exit uncertainty would inevitably affect European oncology research and care and would necessitate a lengthy period of adaptation as we grapple with the aftermath,” they say.

It is certainly also possible that EU institutes such as the Joint Research Centre, which carries out much work on areas such pan-European cancer information databases and the European Commission Initiative on Breast Cancer, could suffer.

But Angus Dalgleish, professor of oncology at St George’s University of London, has pointed out that the seven of the top nine universities are in the UK, which is unlikely to change, and European collaboration in science has been in place long before the post-Lisbon Treaty EU. “Examples abound, such as CERN, the European Molecular Biology laboratories, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and the European Space Agency,” he says. “It is a myth to think that if we left the EU we wouldn’t be part of these great collaborations, which already include many countries that are not in the EU, such as Switzerland, Norway and Israel.” (Note though that Dalgleish is also a member of the UK Independence Party.)

He would probably point too at Cancer Core Europe, the new group of elite cancer centres in Europe, including Cambridge, that is pushing ahead with large scale collaborative research.

And certainly there has been much frustration with the EU, in particular with the much criticised clinical trials directive of 2001. But that was reformed in 2014, and then just recently the European Parliament has adopted the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which ESMO describes as “crucial” for the future of cancer research as it includes one-time consent for retrospective research on clinical data and biological tissues, and aims to harmonise the different frameworks governing health research across the EU’s member states. Under the current Juncker commission in Brussels there is also a commitment to weed out unnecessary regulation.

If the UK does vote to leave, there will be several years of negotiation and perhaps the country will continue to participate in EU research programmes as before, and it will certainly have to conform to regulations such as the GDPR in international work that involves Europe.

But whichever way the vote goes, one positive result is that Europe’s cancer community has come under renewed focus from several angles – workforce, research and care – even if its value under the EU umbrella is contested.

Uganda says “we can” on World Cancer Day

Guest blogger – Esther Nakkazi, freelance science journalist

Guest blogger – Esther Nakkazi, freelance science journalist

“We can – I can – get involved in cancer prevention and control”

This is the theme for World Cancer Day being promoted by Ugandan health ministry.

And this year it seems that the government is not just talking the talk, it is walking the walk with plans to provide the legal basis and funding to support a comprehensive approach to cancer control in the country.

When the 10th Parliament convenes after the May elections, the Cancer Bill will be high up on the agenda.

Its primary objective will be to establish the Uganda Cancer Institute as an autonomous agency of Government mandated to undertake and coordinate the prevention and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases and conduct research.

With only 25 oncologists in the whole country, Uganda currently struggles to care for the almost 30,000 people who are diagnosed with cancer every year. Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of Health ahead of World Cancer Day, Jackson Orem, Director of the Uganda Cancer Institute, spoke of his hope of increasing survival from the current rate of 20% to 50%, through improved prevention, earlier detection and care. And he sounded confident the proposed measures would be debated as planned. “The Cancer Bill is already before the committee of health. It will be their priority in the next parliament,”he said.

With 60% of new cancer cases caused by infections, immunisation programmes will be key to cutting new cases. Cervical cancer, associated with infection with the HPV virus, is the single biggest cause of cancer death among women, with Kaposi sarcoma, associated with HIV infection, and liver cancer, associated with hepatitis also major killers.

Anthony Mbonye, the commissioner for community health services at Uganda’s Health Ministry, spoke of the government’s commitment to vaccination programmes. “Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination against cancer of the cervix is now available across the country and girls aged 10 years can access it in all our health facilities,” he said, adding that the Hepatitis B vaccine is now part of the routine childhood immunisations, and vaccination is also available for adults in high-burden districts, and will soon be available across the country.

As an autonomous agency, the Uganda Cancer Institute will be a corporate body governed by a Board of Directors. The Bill spells out that the Institute will undertake and coordinate the prevention and treatment of cancers in Uganda, including providing comprehensive medical care services to patients affected with cancer and other cancer-related diseases, and coordinating cancer-related activities both within and outside Uganda.

The Bill also provides for the Institute to conduct on-the-job training in oncology and related fields for its staff as well as to provide public education and training on cancer.

Importantly it includes provisions for funding the Institute and its work.

Orem hopes this will be an important step to establishing a truly national cancer service. “We want every cancer patient to be diagnosed and followed up. We need to get their contacts so that they are always within our systems,” he said.

But his aspirations go beyond Uganda’s own borders. “The UCI,” he said, “will be the centre for training oncologists in East Africa in an effort to increase human resource in the region.

Grand opening of the new Ugandan Cancer Institute buildings May 2015

Grand opening of the new Ugandan Cancer Institute buildings May 2015

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ABC steps up to fill the gaps in metastatic breast cancer care

Marc Beishon

Marc Beishon

 

The third Advanced Breast Cancer consensus conference – ABC3 – took place last month at its regular Lisbon home. ABC is the world’s only international consensus meeting devoted to the care and treatment of women and men with locally advanced and metastatic breast cancer. At each ABC conference, a large panel of experts adds and refines guideline statements for managing patients, with the aim of promoting them around the world for all countries, including those that lack the resources of developed nations.

ABC has contributed greatly to a fundamental change in thinking about metastatic disease. No longer do oncologists raise doubts about the feasibility of guidelines for treating such patients – the argument that there are too many variables among individuals is not often heard now.

And the conference has done much to unite the various parties in the advanced breast cancer community – in particular, patients and advocates participate on an equal basis with physicians (including on the consensus panel) and there is also a wide spectrum of professional expertise, again on the panel and in the conference sessions. Psycho-oncology, supportive and palliative care, health economics and survivorship all had prominent positions alongside scientific progress, and a complementary stream for advocates also allowed networking among patient representatives from many countries.

It’s not easy to break down barriers, particularly between doctors and patients, and ABC co-chair, Fatima Cardoso, reminded delegates that the conference has a mission for all to be respectful of the views of others. She also introduced the first results from a major new study sponsored by Pfizer and supported by the European School of Oncology, entitled ‘Global status of advanced/metastatic breast cancer: 2005-2015 decade report’, in which patient care perspective and public understanding have been surveyed across as many as 34 countries, and which also reports on scientific progress (disclosure – I am on the steering committee for the report).

Big gaps remain in areas such as patient communication, involvement in decision-making, and public awareness, where many people still think metastatic breast cancer can be cured, and some prefer women not to talk about it. Dian ‘CJ’ Corneliussen-James, of US group METAvivor, told the audience that prejudice is still a major problem, and that metastatic patients can be made to feel unwelcome by some advocacy groups. There are indications that overall, quality of life may not have seen much improvement.

Dian ‘CJ’ Corneliussen-James spoke about prejudice still affecting metastic breast cancer patients

Dian ‘CJ’ Corneliussen-James spoke about prejudice still affecting metastatic breast cancer patients

In the final session at ABC3, the consensus panel voted on new and changed statements in the guidelines, which will be published next year. There was heated discussion about some while others sailed through.

Briefly, there are important new statements concerning the use of objective benefit scales to assess drugs (e.g. from ESMO and ASCO), which may help to control costs, and on the need to design clinical trials that answer practical questions such as the sequence of using agents.

There are also new statements on survivorship, which is becoming more important as the number of women living with advanced disease for longer rises, and on several supportive care issues.

The consensus panel vote on new and changed statements in the guidelines

The consensus panel vote on new and changed statements in the guidelines

There has only been one new drug approved for the metastatic setting since ABC2, palbociclib, but new data on other drugs such as pertuzumab have changed some statements. The point was made in the conference that innovation in advanced breast cancer is now lagging other tumour types, such as lung cancer and melanoma.

Overall, the conference was notable for the continued integration of patients and those supporting patients into the programme. A highlight was Anna Craig, a young mother from the US, and her video, I am Anna, which was screened for delegates.

See @ESOncology and #ABCLisbon for tweets.

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!”

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.

davos image

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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Bold policies for progress north and south

anna portrait  picWorking in silos has long been a problem within the cancer community, as people engaged in increasingly specialised fields struggle to remain aware of the bigger picture. So it can be important, on occasion, to bring the different constituents together around a single agenda.

One might have wondered, however, whether the World Oncology Forum, which gathered almost two months ago in Lugano, Switzerland, might not have been a little over-ambitious in setting an agenda that focused on two topics that are poles apart in almost every respect, including the geographical.

The first of these, fixing the ‘broken model’ of new drug development, is a priority issue for the northern hemisphere. The second, addressing unmet need for the most rudimentary detection, treatment and palliative care, is the priority in the South. The opportunity to explore these challenges and the associated policy implications, within a single gathering, however, turned out to be remarkably constructive.

wof collage Hearing about some of the best examples of low- to middle-income countries that have taken well-planned, system-wide, sensibly financed steps to get the widest possible access to the best possible early detection, treatment and follow-up showed just how much can be achieved for cancer patients, even with modest resources, by simply getting the fundamentals right.

While hearing about the cost, both in health expenditure and overtreatment, of squeezing out additional survival benefit for patients in better resourced health systems brought home how unsustainable current approaches to developing new treatments are becoming, even for world’s wealthiest countries. The message that came out was about priorities.

  • Don’t waste resources on expensive equipment and therapies if the money can be better used getting the fundamentals right for everybody who needs them.
  • Don’t waste resources on developing new therapies unless they aim high – which means tackling resistance rather simply chasing cancer cell evolution from dependence on one mutated pathway to the next.

Bold policy initiatives that champion the public interest will be needed at international and national level to achieve what must be achieved. The task of the 35 assembled experts, leaders and innovators in their own fields, was to spell out the core elements of such initiatives.

As keynote speaker Paul Workman, chief executive of the UK Institute of Cancer Research, points out in the video below, the level of agreement among participants was remarkable, given the differences in their geographic and professional backgrounds and the strong views held by all.

The exact wording of the final policy appeal is currently being finalised. It will be published on this blog and in the March issue of Cancer World, which will carry a full report of this remarkable meeting. It will also feed into a discussion at the ‘Davos’ World Economic Forum on meeting the challenge of the global cancer epidemic, if and when the organisers confirm that the issue has made it onto the final agenda at the end of January 2015.

Slides from most of the presentations are available now on the ESO website (access requires you to register with Club ESO).