I spent last Friday in Rome attending the cancer policy conference organised by the Italian Ministry of Health and the European Joint Action on cancer control (CanCon). The conference, entitled “Italy and the EU: Policy Dialogues in Cancer Control” brought together Members of the European and Italian Parliament for a day of discussions around design, implementation and assessment of cancer policy and care.
The first part of the conference was a roundtable organised by the Members of the European Parliament Against Cancer (MAC). It focused on two critical points: prevention and innovation as two important avenues for successful cancer control. On prevention, Mr. Karjalainen, president of the European Cancer Leagues, reminded the audience that half of cancer cases could be prevented if we put the all the information we have on cancer in use. And Mr. Schreck, head of Unit at the European Commission, underscored the role of the EU in sharing this critical information: registries, the Joint Research Center, European Reference Networks and more.
When the conversation turned to innovation, two were the issues that kept coming up: sustainability and access. What struck me was the level of agreement among the different speakers on both the critical role innovative technologies and medicines play in the fight against cancer; and also on the need to ensure that cancer care remains sustainable. Ms. Emiliagrazia De Biasi, President of the Health Committee of the Italian Parliament highlighted the financial challenges the Italian healthcare system faces, with an ageing population and with once-acute diseases – sometimes even cancer - becoming chronic.
MEP Gardini’s keynote speech discussed ways for improving access to innovation: she asked for faster, wider and sustainable access to meaningful innovation for all patients. This is something that the European Parliament is working on – later this year we are expecting the European Parliament’s report on access to medicines. But this is not going to be an easy task. The crux of the issue is how to balance speedy and wide access to appropriate innovative treatments, with the financial sustainability our healthcare systems need, and with the appropriate incentives for pharmaceutical R&D. We are looking forward to seeing how the final product of CanCon, which will be unveiled early next year, will be dealing with these multi-faceted issues.