Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the EU (European Union) - a figure that is expected to rise due to the ageing European population. Cancer has been in EU policies since 1985 when the EC (European Commission) and the 12 member states launched the ‘Europe against Cancer’ programme and the first ‘European Code against Cancer’. The upcoming World Cancer Day 2017 provides an opportunity to review numerous actions that have been undertaken and supported at EU level for over three decades and the potential impact of Brexit on cancer research.
In 2009, the EC published its ‘Communication on Action Against Cancer: European Partnership’ which aims to reduce cancer incidence by 15% by 2020 and supports member states at developing their national plans on cancer. The recently updated European Code Against Cancer aims to help adopt healthy lifestyles and to attend early screenings once they reach a certain age. In addition, the EC has recently published a Communication to promote OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) across the EU through better protection of workers against work-related cancer.
The EC also harmonises and improves EU-wide information on cancer. The Joint Research Centre is spearheading the development of a harmonised cancer information system for Europe in collaboration with the European Network of Cancer Registries.
From the funding perspective, UK researchers successfully competed for part of the EU's €1.5 billion cancer research funding within the FP7 (Seventh Framework Programme) with involvement in more than 80% of funded projects. It brought more than £4 billion to UK science overall. The EU’s Research and Innovation Programme, called Horizon 2020, has an overall budget of over €70 billion, with €7.5 billion specifically dedicated to health research and innovation from 2014 to 2020. It offers significant opportunities UK researchers to source funding for the use of innovation therapies and tools for better patient outcomes.
The EU membership allows for joint learning and the exchange of scientific expertise, technical input and knowledge sharing on policy development on public health related issues through the EU’s Health Programme. It is particular designed to encourage governments, academics and other non‐profit organisations, to join forces across Europe to tackle problems shared by many EU member states. The EC provides co‐funding (usually up to 60% of costs) towards these collaborations. Of the 30 Joint Actions funded from 2008 to 2013, 25 (over 80 %) had involvement from UK organisations. These collaborations included a wide variety of themes, including, cancer.
Further opportunities for cancer research arise from several EU legislative initiatives such as free movement of tissues, cells, blood and organs between member states facilitated by EU-wide minimum standards which the EC is planning to revise in 2017.
The 'Patients' Rights in Cross-border Healthcare Directive' (2011/24/EU) creates the European Reference Networks, of which some are expected to focus on rare tumours.
A new EU Clinical Trials Regulation, due for full implementation in 2018, seeks to streamline the procedures to assess and authorise new clinical studies, removing duplications and reducing delays for launching clinical trials.
The issue of EU membership and its effect on UK health research goes beyond pure financial impacts. The upcoming UK negotiations with the EU should seek to reassure that Europe’s health and patients are well respected in the process by securing continuity with accessing EU funds and to maintain the existing and successful collaboration with partner institutions in other EU countries, including mobility of researchers and access to information.
The BMA is working with European partners to mitigate a number of challenges which could jeopardise such well-established cooperative work which is highly beneficial for both, UK and EU patients and medical researchers.
World Cancer Day 2017 takes place on February 4
Robert Delis is the BMA’s EU public affairs officer