Mission on cancer - Sustainable, science based, efficient approach toward reducing cancer burden and inequities in the EU (Guest blog)

The notion of “missions” was introduced over the course of the programmatic debates about the orientation of the EU’s future Research & Innovation (R&I) policy in 2017.

The idea of mission-oriented research and innovation was subsequently further specified through various studies and reports, in particular two reports by Mariana Mazzucato, which inspired policy debates at European as well as national level.

Missions are defined as targeted and longer-term ambitions around which to build a portfolio of Horizon Europe research and innovation projects.

Missions should be bold and inspirational, and have scientific, technological, societal and/or economic and/or policy relevance and impact. They should indicate a clear direction and be targeted, measurable, time bound and have a clear budget frame. The EU Mission on cancer was one of the other 4 areas where this approach was recommended.

The Mission’s on cancer aim is more prevention, better treatment, more lives saved, and a better quality of life for patients and their families living with, and after, cancer.

The mission was due to be launched in 2020, but due to the pandemic it was postponed until 2021,  with a timeframe of ten years to achieve the goal of saving more than three million lives through better prevention  with the aim of more people living longer and improved lives by 2030.

The first Cancer Mission Board started working on the content in September 2019 and as a result of this work a plan was published in early June 2020, representing a common vision of what the mission should achieve and how it could be done. They identified five complementary areas:

  1. Understanding
  2. Prevent what is preventable
  3. Optimise diagnostics and treatment
  4. Support quality of life
  5. Ensure equitable access.

The second Board of the Mission on cancer was introduced in September 2022 and I was among 15 newly appointed members with responsibilities over Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania. The second Board will further the implementation of 13 bold recommendations, centred on people needs outlined by the previous Board and listed in the Implementation plan.

The Mission on Cancer needs to provide clear guidance on the priority areas and drivers for research, which will help develop the Horizon Europe work programmes with regard to cancer for 2021-2027.

It will set a common strategic R&I agenda on cancer at EU level, which will steer national efforts and streamline national and private investments towards the Mission’s objectives.

The Mission on Cancer puts citizens and patients at the centre of R&I and policy at EU and national level in a structured and meaningful way, which will drive future policymaking towards impactful actions. Furthermore, the Mission on cancer will collaborate in the creation of the EU platform by 2023, creation of the European Cancer Patient Digital Centre by 2023 and so empower them regarding their care and a network of Comprehensive Cancer Infrastructures by 2025, enhancing not only the quality of care but also decreasing inequalities in access to care.

The Mission will underpin the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan by supporting and accelerating novel approaches to research and policy-making to ensure an impactful implementation of the Plan’s proposed flagships and actions.

Supporting the implementation of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and delivering on its objectives through several ways:

i. The Mission on Cancer will deliver innovative concepts and solutions for implementing specific parts of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, going beyond research & innovation.

ii. The Mission on Cancer will generate knowledge and evidence for the implementation of new actions in the areas of understanding, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life.

iii. The Mission on Cancer will constitute a point of contact with European citizens, who will be fully involved in co-creating specific activities. Citizen engagement activities at national level will represent a real added value for the Cancer Plan, by building trustful dialogues with citizens and providing direct citizens’ feedback on the proposed initiatives.

iv. The Cancer Mission Board is part of the overall governance of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, and will act as a scientific advisory group during its implementation. The Chair and vice-Chair have observer status in the Member States’ subgroup on cancer, which consists of experts from health and research ministries.

The integrated EU platform, the Comprehensive Cancer Infrastructures and the European Cancer Patient Digital Centre has the potential to accelerate progress on cancer research and control while putting the patient at the centre, strengthening the Cancer Plan’s direction towards patient-centred care and again are in the scope of collaborations between The Plan and The Mission.

A new ecosystem on Missions will be created at country level, as the Mission foresees the setting up of national mission hubs through a Horizon Europe call, connected trans-nationally.

These hubs should allow for a regular dialogue between national and regional authorities on the implementation of Mission related actions and citizen engagement activities.

In addition to and connecting with the national mission hubs, a network of national cancer contact points will be created, to provide the entry point for cancer prevention and control related policy dialogue. The monitoring dashboard established at the start of the Mission will serve as a basis for these discussions as well as for feedback from the meetings of the EU joint subgroup on cancer.

The Mission on Cancer will constitute a point of contact with European citizens at national, regional and local community levels, who will be fully informed and involved in the implementation of actions to fight cancer.

These citizen engagement activities will not only help implement the mission, but also represent a real added value for the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan by building trusted dialogues with and providing direct feedback from citizens on the EU cancer activities and policies, for example through living labs and public innovation.

Citizen engagement activities will target different groups depending on the subject matter the mission wants to engage them on: children & adolescents (e.g. on survivorship and quality of life or on prevention), people suffering from cancer and carers (e.g. on quality of live and palliative care), citizens at large (e.g. on the Cancer Patient Digital Centre), care providers - formal and informal (e.g. on quality of care), (health) policy makers (e.g. on comprehensive cancer infrastructures)

With all these objectives, activities, collaborations and synergies the Mission on cancer has set and with a pragmatic, science based, financially sustainable and citizens and patients centred approach I believe that EU will eventually accomplish reducing of cancer burden and inequities in cancer care between member states.

The Mission on cancer together with EU Beating Cancer Plan and through funding from Horizon Europe and EU4Health programmes will support better but also will guarantee the proper, transparent and efficient execution of objectives and initiatives planned in the national controlling cancer plans, especially in the countries, where cancer infrastructure and resources are not yet well established.

Jeliazko Arabadjiev, MD, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor in Oncology; Board member and Mission ambassador to Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania for the EU...
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