Every year on 4 February, millions of Europeans gather to raise awareness on how to fight against cancer through early detection, treatment and support. Now, with the growth of Advanced Diagnostics in the EU, we can facilitate earlier diagnosis of disease and enable targeted therapeutic interventions based on an unprecedented understanding of patients. Europe just needs to ensure an adequate ecosystem that encourages innovation and improves accessibility for cancer patients.
Cancer is one of the major health challenges of our times and the second most frequent cause of death, accounting for 1 of 4 lives lost in the EU. Today, Europe accounts for a tenth of the world’s population, but a quarter of the global cancer cases. According to the European Cancer Information System[ii], each year 2.7 million people are diagnosed with cancer and 1,3 million lost their lives due to this disease in Europe. If no further action is taken, the number of people newly diagnosed will increase to more than 3.24 million by 2040. The newly launched “Cancer Inequalities Registry” shows that there are wide disparities in cancer, with mortality rates, risk factors and access to care varying hugely between and even within countries in Europe.[iii] World Cancer Day is observed annually on February 4 to raise awareness of cancer and encourage people to work together to fight the disease through early detection, treatment, and emotional support.
One of the most important factors of World Cancer Day is to raise awareness and advocate for the importance of early detection, since when cancer is identified early on, patients’ outcomes are vastly improved. Currently, the goal of early identification and diagnosis of cancer is to identify symptomatic individuals as soon as possible, identify the cancer type, and to thereby give them the best chance of a successful course of treatment that corresponds to their individual needs. By delivering care at the earliest possible stage, early diagnosis improves cancer outcomes, making it a crucial public health approach in all contexts.
At EUCOPE, our members are pioneering innovations that have the potential to significantly improve cancer patient outcomes, ranging from diagnostic tools to foundational and personalised therapeutics, but like any innovation, they only matter if patients can access them. Across Europe, there are many challenges hindering more widespread adoption of these life-saving technologies.. Take one of the most promising advances in cancer care in the recent decade as an example, the ability to develop targeted therapies based on the specific genetic makeup of an individual patient, by using advanced genomic sequencing techniques. While innovation in recent years has led to the rollout of precise diagnostic tools that can identify “so-called” biomarkers that allow for the development and administering of targeted personalised treatments, access is inequal across European countries and, more effort is needed so that the benefits of these diagnostic tools and therapeutics can reach patients more quickly. You can learn more here.
Advanced diagnostics based on the improved understanding of genomics represent a paradigm shift in medical care, primarily because of the vast amount of relevant information they generate compared to less comprehensive genomic sequencing and their wider uptake in healthcare systems carries significant benefits. These innovations facilitate earlier diagnosis of disease, improve the prognosis of disease outcome and enable targeted therapeutic interventions based on an unprecedented understanding of the underlying molecular characteristics of patients. Today we can deliver the right treatment for the right patient at the right time – and with widespread adoption, the potential is enormous to derive exponential benefit to healthcare systems alongside more targeted and efficient use of resources.
The way forward for Advanced Diagnostics in Europe
Advanced diagnostics is a new and burgeoning industry, and the EU and Member States must support the advanced diagnostic ecosystem in Europe to ensure European patients will have access to advanced genomic sequencing techniques. In 2020, EUCOPE members have established a Genomics Working Group to discuss the specific barriers to entry they face in the European market and to work towards the establishment of clear pathways for reimbursement of genomic testing. Over the past three years, the Working Group developed a White Paper to raise awareness of the value of Advanced Diagnostics and presented concrete solutions to support a vibrant ecosystem in Europe. Since then we have been convening key decision-makers at the EU level (European Commission, Member of the European Parliament and the EU Cancer Mission Board), and at the national level where reimbursement decisions are made, and the key stakeholders (patients, clinicians and pathologists) in order to ensure necessary action is taken to drive access for patients.
This effort has been driving discussions at the intersections of national cancer policy, public health and economics. At the EU level, EUCOPE supports the commitment of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and welcomes the call from the European Parliament for Member States to improve accessibility for patients in all age groups to advanced diagnostics by earmarking financing and creating clear pathways for fast and efficient reimbursement.[iv] At the national level, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will need to be supported by concerted action that ensures equitable access to advanced diagnostics, by ensuring adequate funding is made available for genomic testing and tailoring assessment frameworks for advanced diagnostics, to ensure speedier reimbursement and access for patients.
The Genomics Working Group is currently engaged with stakeholders at the national level to identify the barriers and develop solutions to ensure patients’ access. In 2022 for example, the group analysed the French reimbursement pathways for advanced diagnostics and presented solutions to the temporary access pathway the RIHN, which is currently being targeted for reform by the French government. We continue to explore possible collaborations and joint dialogues with other stakeholders in the selected Member States and at the EU level to further increase awareness around the value of advanced diagnostics. It is an exciting and complex time to be working in this field with the growing awareness and momentum around how advanced diagnostics can deliver for national and EU cancer plans, and make the promise of personalised medicine a reality.
Playing your part against Cancer
On World Cancer Day 2023, we recognise the power of working together. We know that every single one of us has the ability to make a difference, large or small, and that together we can make real progress in reducing the global impact of cancer. From our European perspective, we believe that specific actions from European governments and EU institutions are needed in order to support the evolving ecosystem for advanced diagnostics.. By joining efforts across Europe with citizens, stakeholders and decision-makers who all share the goal of reducing the cancer burden, we will provide a better understanding of cancer, allow for earlier diagnosis and optimisation of treatment and improve cancer patients’ quality of life during and beyond their cancer treatment.
There is still a lot of work to be done so on this 4 February 2023 – World Cancer Day – we call on everyone – developers, policymakers, clinicians, patients, families and carers – to play your part in tackling the cancer burden
[iv] European Parliament resolution of 16 February 2022 on strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy (2020/2267(INI))
More from EUCOPE: www.blog.eucope.org
February 2, 2023