ECL participants; Credit: Fondation Cancer

Members of the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL) and experts from 26 countries across the World Health Organisation (WHO) region gathered in Luxembourg this week for the ECL Annual Meeting.

This year, ECL's annual conference and meetings were hosted by Fondation Cancer Luxembourg as part of the celebration of 25 years of service to the community and patients. From 26-29 November 2019, ECL members and experts joined forces to discuss the achievements and future challenges of cancer research and prevention in Europe.

Despite the significant progress made in the last 50 years, there is still a long way to go. Indeed, cancer remains the second leading cause of death in Europe and a growing and ageing population means that cases continue to rise at an alarming rate. As such, the need for groundbreaking research is needed now more than ever. For their part, Cancer Leagues believe that beating cancer is possible and that the quality of cancer care available in Europe depends on the quality of cancer research taking place across the region and beyond.

The host organisation, Fondation Cancer Luxembourg, opened the meeting on Tuesday with a welcome speech from its President, Dr Carlo Bock, who stated: "Our proven track record of providing financial support for numerous research projects has earned the Fondation Cancer widespread recognition as a top leader in the fight against cancer. Fondation Cancer directly funded twelve studies in 2018-19 for a total of over €5.6 million and provides ongoing support to national research actors as well as scientists abroad. As scientific advances accelerate, researchers are already laying the foundations for the next generation of cancer treatments that will save millions of lives".

Dr Sakari Karjalainen, President of the Association of European Cancer Leagues, added: "Cancer knows no borders. That is why international collaboration is the backbone of research. If we are to turn the tide on cancer, our approach to research on innovative cancer prevention and treatment solutions needs to be increasingly robust. [...] We need to continue to ensure that EU policies and the regulatory environment support collaboration across the cancer community and strengthen the role of its representative organisations, such as ECL [whose] members funded over €600 million of cancer research in 2017/18".

In addition, the 2019 ECL Conference put a spotlight on cancer prevention research, opportunities and challenges under the EU Mission on Cancer and the importance of cross-country collaboration. The European Commission, represented by John F. Ryan, Director for Public Health, Country Knowledge and Crisis Management at the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE), opened the conference.

In his speech, Mr. Ryan applauded the cancer leagues for their outstanding dedication to the fight against cancer: "Significant progress has been made in improving the outcome for cancer patients, but we are not done yet. With EU funds, our world class researchers have led the way in pioneering discoveries that lead to better ways of treating and caring for cancer patients. The next EU Commission, through Horizon Europe’s Mission on Cancer and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, has an opportunity to boost EU overall survival rates to be among the best in the world". He added: "To drive this ambition, it is necessary to prevent people from developing cancer and to preserve the EU’s status as a world-leader in cancer research and control. We need to improve our prevention interventions and actively promote the exchange of best practices between Member States. Prevention must be the cornerstone of action".

The Cancer Leagues also addressed the topic of survivorship. As the population living with cancer grows and the majority of medical research and innovation focuses on product development and market approval, collaboration is of utmost importance for research into patient issues.