Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible
Horizon Europe adopts five mission areas as part of its commitment to solving some of the largest challenges facing our world. Under these areas, five missions are proposed that will further the goals of the European Green Deal, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Under the Cancer mission area, the proposed mission is called ‘Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible’. In this post we layout the background and aims of this mission.
Cancer has been a major research focus in Europe. Since 2007, over €3 billion was invested into more than 2,000 projects through the FP7 (2007-2013) and Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) programs. Now, Horizon Europe has a mission area dedicated to attacking cancer on all fronts: from prevention to survivorship support; from the most rare forms to the most common ones; whether it affects children most or the elderly. Above it all, Europe strives to bring the tools to fight cancer to everyone and everywhere.
Through specific complimentary actions, the EU aims to save over 3 million lives and ensure that more people live longer and better by 2030. The cornerstones of reaching this goal are prevention, better treatment, more lives saved, and better quality of life for patients and their family living with, and after, cancer.
How will we achieve these aims?
To reach this ambitious target, the EU has identified five areas of action under the Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible mission. Two overarching intervention areas support three pillared intervention areas. Intervention areas are accompanied with 13 bold recommendations that will facilitate unprecedented cooperation between citizens, researchers, institutions, and countries.
1. Understanding cancer: This first overarching intervention area addresses processes and factors that lead to cancer. Cancer is an extremely complex set of diseases. While we have been revealing many previously unknown aspects of cancer through the latest technological advancements, such as genome sequencing and machine learning algorithms, every new piece of information seems to raise a dozen new questions. We therefore need to develop a comprehensive and dynamic view of how cancers emerge, develop, and spread. The two recommendations for this action area are Research & Innovation actions:
- Recommendation 1: UNCAN.eu – A European initiative to understand cancer
- Recommendation 2: Developing an EU-wide research programme to identify (poly-)genic risk scores
2. Preventing what is preventable: The best way to improve cancer-related health outcomes is to avoid risk factors that are tied to cancer. The five major behavioural risks are tobacco use, alcohol use, high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity. Modifying these through policies while in parallel improving screening programmes for early detection will reduce preventable cancer cases by 25%.
- Recommendation 3: Supporting the development and implementation of effective cancer prevention strategies and policies
- Recommendation 4: Optimising existing screening programmes and developing novel approaches for screening and early detection
3. Optimising diagnostics and treatments: It is now very clear that the sooner a cancerous lesion is diagnosed and treated, the better the patient outcomes are. While some more common cancer types are accurately diagnosed on time through reliable biomarkers, more rare and less understood cancers fall through the cracks of the medical system. The EU offers two recommendations to tackle the imbalances in diagnostics:
- Recommendation 5: Advancing and implementing personalised medicine approaches for all cancer patients in Europe
- Recommendation 6: Developing an EU-wide research programme on early diagnostics and minimally invasive treatment
4. Supporting quality of life: Cancer itself can be physically debilitating. Moreover, cancer therapies are typically aggressive with various short-term and long-term side effects. In addition to the physical consequences of living with or surviving cancer, the disease may bring along social and psychological difficulties both for the patients and patient relatives. The needs of these individuals must be identified and addressed from a broader perspective and the societal (e.g. stigma) and economical (e.g. insurance) barriers removed. The Mission on Cancer will ensure that all persons who are affected by cancer or are living with a high risk of cancer (such as genetically predisposed individuals) will receive support to live the best possible quality of life. To this end, the EU recommends two very broad actions:
- Recommendation 7: Developing an EU-wide research programme and policy support to improve the quality of life of cancer patients and survivors, family members and carers, and all persons with increased risk of cancer.
- Recommendation 8: Creating a European Cancer Patient Digital Centre where cancer patients and survivors can deposit and share their data for personalised care.
5. Ensuring equitable access: The second overarching intervention area focuses on making cancer care accessible, whether it is therapy or other support, for everyone of all cancer types (rare/common), ages (children/elderly), status (poor/rich), and locations (urban/rural). Geography and socio-economic disparities between and within European countries are a major determinant of quality of cancer care and cancer patient outcomes. This intervention area will cover all three pillars – preventive measures, new diagnostics and treatments, and supportive care – to make sure that research and innovation achievements are distributed evenly across Europe.
- Recommendation 9: Achieving cancer health equity in the EU across the continuum of the disease
- Recommendation 10: Setting up a network of comprehensive cancer infrastructures within and across all EU Member States to increase quality of research and care
Further cross-cutting recommendations
In addition to recommendations specific to the intervention areas, the EU shares three cross-cutting recommendations:
- Recommendation 11: Childhood cancer and cancers in adolescents and young adults: cure more and cure better.
While equitable access warrants high quality healthcare for all populations, children with cancer form a particularly vulnerable and underserved group of patients. Most childhood cancers are rare and have unique features that make them especially difficult to treat. Therefore, therapy options are very limited whereas the incidence rates are increasing. Therefore, Europe will prioritize efforts to increase our understanding of childhood cancers and to develop treatments for these.
- Recommendation 12: Accelerate innovation and implementation of new technologies and create Oncology-focused Living Labs to conquer cancer.
Cancer is a multi-faceted disease. Thus, conquering cancer will require multi-stakeholder collaborations across different sectors and disciplines. The Oncology-focused Living Labs will enable large-scale collaborative approaches and encourage seemingly unlikely partnerships towards holistic approaches to solving the grand cancer challenge.
- Recommendation 13: Transform cancer culture, communication, and capacity building.
In order for all research and development efforts to be successfully implemented, it is crucial that all stakeholders, from the expert clinicians to the most vulnerable patients groups, adopt a more inclusive mindset. For this, Europe suggests an EU-wide Cancer R&I Dissemination and Communication Facility that will use audience-adapted communication tools to raise awareness and increase the understanding of various aspects of cancer within the general population. In addition, programs directed at healthcare professionals shall encourage a patient-cantered approach and co-creation of health and wellbeing together with patients and their carers.
Cancer concerns all European citizens, whether because of prevention, detection, treatment, or survivorship. The intervention areas and recommendations described here are designed to serve each and every European citizen and build a stronger European Health Union, in perfect complementarity with the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.
Read more about Horizon Europe
Visit the European Commission’s Conquering Cancer: Mission Possible page