European Cancer Congress Talks Science & Access

Today’s guest blog is by Rachel Greig, PhD, Public Affairs Manager, Oncology Corporate Affairs, Eli Lilly and Company UK

This year’s European Cancer Congress (ECC) combined the efforts of the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO) and the European School of Medical Oncology (ESMO) in their bid to continue to promote efforts in improving the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer patients. ESMO and ECCO have been holding this event for 40 and 18 years respectively and so know what they’re doing when it comes to ensuring their delegates, who travel across the world to attend, get the opportunity to hear the latest multidisciplinary, scientific developments from different areas of oncology that may benefit cancer patients. So despite the grey skies and rain that met us when we arrived in Vienna, we were pleased to see the congress agenda was a livelier than the weather.

Coming round to my way of thinking

As someone who works in the field of policy, it’s important for me that such a big conference shares not only the latest innovations coming to the fore but also discusses the policy and patient advocacy components that form part of the solution to tackling cancer. So I was pleased to see this year’s meeting embrace the hot topics of the moment which centre on the affordability of new and innovative cancer therapies and the access patients have to them.

Europe we have a problem

Worldwide the rising cost of healthcare is now widely viewed as unsustainable and this is a concern when it comes to oncology.  The cost of cancer medicines is often blamed as one of the main challenges to healthcare systems. However, these make up only a small portion of healthcare spending overall, and advances in oncology medicines may help prevent other, more costly, interventions such as hospitalisations. That being said however, the cancer drugs budget is not insignificant.  As one conference speaker observed - in 2014 the world spent almost $80bn on cancer medicines and this is expected to rise to around $153.1bn by 2020.  Of course it’s important to note that this, in some ways, is a success story.  More people than ever before are surviving cancer and it is estimated that new therapies have accounted for 50-60% of the increase in cancer survival rates since 1975. 

Moving forward?

With this in mind it is important to ensure patient access to innovative treatment does not suffer as a result of healthcare systems trying to curb spending.  During the conference the recently published ESMO Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale (MCBS) was presented.  This is a tool used to rank newly approved cancer drugs for the level of benefit they bring to patients, the idea being those with the highest scores will be accelerated through health technology assessment in different European countries.  ESMO themselves have stated that the tool is still in its infancy and needs more refinement.  For example the tool does not consider that the true value of a cancer medicine is often not realised until sometime after initial approval.  However, as long as this tool is used to promote access and not a reason to limit it, ESMO can be commended in its efforts to address the issue of value in cancer care. 

It will be interesting to see what the next 12 months holds in terms of the ESMO tool and other wider conversations on access and value. I’m looking forward to continuing to engage in this important topic, and indeed to what next year’s ESMO conference, to be held in Copenhagen, will bring.