Boosting the social impact of innovative cancer research – towards a mission-oriented approach to cancer

The increasing cancer burden is one of the leading medical societal challenges today. The number of new cancer patients in Europe is expected to increase from 3.6 (2015) to 4.3 million over the next two decades; it has now reached 3.91 million. Moreover, the number of patients living with a cancer diagnosis is ever increasing, making cancer a significant chronic disease. In Europe, the total number of cancer deaths amounts to 1.94 million annually (Ferlay et al., 2018). So far, the results of our research efforts and their implementation in the healthcare system have been unable to curb this development.

Analyses of European cancer research during the last 16 years by the cancer community and the European Commission (EC) have identified significant barriers hindering the translation of discoveries into preventive measures and therapeutic applications with a direct impact for patients. The complexity of cancer, exacerbated by the heterogeneity of tumours and the existence of a large number of subgroups, calls for new research strategies. Securing a critical mass of expertise with access to complex infrastructures, adequate access to patients, and resources for sustainable activities, as well as more effective coordination of international research efforts, are some of the issues that need urgent attention. Significant recent developments, however, such as the establishment of Cancer Core Europe for therapeutic research (Calvo et al., 2018; Eggermont et al., 2014) and Cancer Prevention Europe (Forman et al., 2018) – both of which are consortia built on institutional collaborations – have set the agenda for tackling these problems in a concerted way. More or less synchronously, the EC recently proposed a mission‐oriented approach to deal with significant societal challenges and pointed out that missions should have a scientific, social, and economic impact (

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