Europe’s Beating cancer plan, making a difference beyond cancer

In de aanloop naar Wereldkankerdag gaf ik een toespraak over het Europees kankerbestrijdingsplan en onze prioriteiten daarbij binnen het Belgische Voorzitterschap van de Raad van de Europese Unie.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear Stella,

The overwhelming presence today underscores a true shared commitment to fight  cancer. And to do that together.

With the Europe Beating Cancer Plan, we have a strong instrument to guide us.  

Obviously and – helas -  shortly after having announced the timeline of the cancer plan roadmap, the Commission and specifically DG Santé suddenly had to deal with Covid instead.

Despite these circumstances, we heard today about the impressive  successes  achieved by the Cancer plan and about the great commitment and support the actions received.  I commend this great joint effort and congratulate all those involved.

However, I join  Stella’s call to continue to address the challenges that are still in front of us. Also to address inequalities.

Prevention is key. Prevention delivers.

We know from the statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO), that an important segment  of all cancer cases are preventable. Addressing risk factors is therefore crucial.  The Cancer plan has a strong agenda in primary prevention, which deserves our full attention and political commitment.

We were looking forward to the two council recommendations announced as a package under the Cancer plan during the Belgian presidency: the recommendation on vaccine-preventable cancers and the recommendation on smoke-free environments. We are delighted that the recommendation on vaccine-preventable cancers was adopted this morning by the Commission’s college. And we sincerely hope that the  council recommendation on smokefree environments will follow as soon as possible, so that we can bring  two council recommendations to adoption under the Belgian presidency.  

Ladies and gentlemen,

disease risk factors have been framed as mostly linked to individual choice. But that is only partly true.  Healthy choices are limited if consumers do not have easily understandable consumer information. If unhealthy products are too easily accessible. If the environment they live in is simply unhealthy.

We have the responsibility to create societal conditions that make a healthy lifestyle possible for everybody.

Therefore, we must revamp the debate on European regulatory initiatives with regard to tobacco, alcohol use, and nutrition. If we really want  progress in primary prevention, we have to make progress in the development of the legal proposals under the Cancer Plan, notably the primary prevention pilar. 

Related to this point, we must integrate the perspective of the commercial determinants into our discussions. Just one figure: Coca-Cola spends approximately $4 billion globally on marketing each year[1] - a figure that dwarfs our prevention budgets. Recent publications in The Lancet and Eurohealth highlight the topic of commercial determinants. It is time to start a much more open, but nuanced for sure, discussion on the impact of private players on health.

Finally, we need  evidence-based medicine and screening in population health. Health Technology Assessment  is pivotal. However, the current state of affairs reveals shortcomings in clinical trials. Often, they do not generate the necessary data for evaluating a product's therapeutic added value and do not provide the necessary data to conduct HTAs as we would like to see it. This, in turn, leads to delays in patient access to innovation and to distorted pricing, particularly apparent in the context of cancer treatments.

To remedy this issue, clinical trials not only need to provide benefit/risk data for marketing authorization they should also provide comparative data for HTAs. The forthcoming negotiations on revised pharmaceutical legislation offer an opportunity to address these challenges together by promoting structural cooperation on HTAs within Europe.

To conclude: A lot of what has been said  is valid beyond cancer. This is true for  prevention  which is addressing risk factors for many non-communicable diseases. And this is also true for treatment: cancer is an area where a lot of innovative policy is started and tested before being rolled out in other disease areas. The Europe’s Beating Cancer plan is about cancer, but it’s impact – once fully implemented – will be far beyond.

So let’s make sure we pursue this important agenda in this sense. And let’s do this as Stella said “putting the people first”.  And let’s do this - as president von der Leyen said, by continuing to join forces, “TOGETHER” - for the sake of our citizen’s health.

Thank you for your attention.


[1] Coca-Cola Co.: advertising budget 2022 | Statista