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This page was published on 01/08/2006
Published: 01/08/2006

   Research policy

Published: 1 August 2006  
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Health & life sciences  |  Research policy


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A case for more public funding for cancer research

A major pan-European survey published in PLoS Medicine has found that there is inadequate public funding of cancer research when set against the actual burden of cancer in Europe, and compared with the United States.

Comparison of direct cancer research expenditure between EU-15 only (left) and the USA (right) as percentage of GDP.Source: PLoS
Comparison of direct cancer research expenditure between EU-15 only (left) and the USA (right) as percentage of GDP.
Source: PLoS
The European Cancer Research Funding Survey found that, across the EU, the average public spending on cancer research was €2.56 (US$3.30) per person, compared with €17.63 (US$22.76) per person in the United States. As a percentage of GDP, the USA paid four times more on cancer research than the average in Europe. These findings are presented in the Public Library of Science's (PLoS) Medicine pages.

Public funding for cancer research – from governments, charities, and European organisations – is crucially important to reducing the cancer burden, according to the survey's authors, Seth Eckhouse of the European Cancer Research Managers Forum and Richard Sullivan of Cancer Research UK.

They say this funding, focused on the needs of patients with cancer rather than commercial or economic advantage, is essential to delivering the myriad solutions that cancer demands, from new strategies for preventing it, to therapies and improvements in patients' quality of life.

Cancer is one of the biggest ‘disease burdens' and killers in the EU and internationally. With the ageing population and the continuing impact of tobacco-associated cancers, it is predicted that cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million new cases worldwide in the year 2020, note the authors.

The latest figures by the International Agency for Research on Cancer estimate close to 2.9 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2004 and over 1.7 million cancer deaths. This is despite substantial progress through public health measures (i.e. tobacco control) and new treatments.

“These figures speak for themselves in making the case for a substantial and sustained European approach to cancer through public health measures and research,” the authors note in PLoS. “Europe needs both a strong commercial and a publicly funded (non-commercial) research base.”

Public funding for public quality of life
The study recognises the important contribution that governments, charities and European organisations, such as the EU, make towards funding the “broad church” of research to find new ways to control and cure cancer.

The study identified 139 non-commercial funding organisations that collectively spent €1.43 billion on cancer research from 2002-2003, but with wide variations across the EU, ranging from €388 million in the UK to nothing in Malta. Three EU countries spent more than €100 million, nine greater than €10 million, and ten less than €1 million. Of all the countries in the survey, only Bulgaria failed to report its spending, the authors note.

Compared to the USA, the EU spends more on cancer biology (41% of EU cancer funding versus 25% in the USA). But the United States spends a greater proportion of its available funds on research into prevention (9% in the USA versus 4% in the EU) and treatment (25% versus 20%). In terms of annual budgets in 2002-2003, the US National Cancer Institute spent €3.60 billion, compared with EU spending of €1.43 billion.

The survey also compares spending on cancer research by charities versus that of governments. “Our survey showed that just over 50% of non-commercial funding in the EU (including EFTA and associate states) is provided by the charitable sector, with 65 major charities across 23 countries contributing around €667.3 million to cancer research,” they note.


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