Innovation is on its way: are national cancer plans ready?

While 30,000 oncologists gathered in Chicago for the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference earlier this month to hear the latest in cancer research, I made my way to rue d’Egmont here in Brussels. Despite the 6,657 km divide, the topics under discussion were intrinsically linked. How can policies help bring the latest innovations, under scientific scrutiny that very moment in the US, to patients here in Europe?

This was one of the key topics up for discussion at the European Alliance for Personalised Medicines (EAPM)’s annual conference last week which Lilly supported as a member of the Alliance. At the meeting it was highlighted that 25 out of the 28 EU Member States have national cancer plans or strategies. This sounds impressive, but it soon became clear that the implementation of these plans and their direct benefits for patients varies depending on the country, or even region. The extent to which cancer plans have adapted to the era of personalised medicines varies even more so.

A national cancer plan can bring both momentum and resources to improve health outcomes for cancer patients, speed up the uptake of new innovations and improve the organisation of care. Yet conceiving and implementing such a comprehensive strategy are two different things. That’s where evaluation plays a key role in assessing whether or not the plan is actually achieving its objectives. Unfortunately for smaller Member States, there just isn’t sufficient resource to carry out these evaluations, compared to the continuous way that countries such as France do for example.

It doesn’t have to be this way though. The EU Joint Action on cancer (CanCon), whose annual conference took place last month, is developing a tool to help member states, big and small, to develop, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of their cancer plans. This tool - a guide on comprehensive cancer control - aims to help increase cancer survival and reduce cancer mortality (read more about the role of cancer policy in survivorship here). This is an encouraging step, where the European Union is demonstrating added value and leadership.Speaking at the EAPM conference, Tit Albrecht of the Slovenian Health Center & Coordinator of CanCon added that “Personalised treatment is something policymakers need to better understand. This is why CanCon is developing a position paper on genomics.” Such initiatives are what we need right now: looking into ways policy can enable the use of and access to innovation that is meaningful to patients.

For patients, access to therapies that yield the greatest benefits will be central to the effectiveness of any plan. In addition to a review of cancer plans, access to oncology treatments was also discussed in last week’s EAPM. Among the panellists, Mr. Kovatchev, Member of the European Parliament’s Interest Group on Access to healthcare, underlined the difficulty of measuring access to oncology care, as a mix of investment, cost and value. All panellists agreed that Europe needs to move away from an isolated assessment of a single product’s cost, towards an assessment of the value an innovative treatment brings to the wider healthcare system.

Lilly supports this holistic view of value in cancer innovation. In the absence of any blueprint, and with the aftermath of the economic crisis continuing to shape health policies, we welcome this debate on the relationship between access and value. Innovation comes in many forms – incremental, disruptive, breakthrough – and access to each form of innovation may benefit different patients in different ways (see more on continuous innovation from my PACE colleagues). Whether you were in Chicago, Brussels or elsewhere last week, better health outcomes for patients lies at the heart of the matter.