Check against delivery.

 

President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to speak at this SIOPE Society Day of the European Cancer Congress.

I am grateful for your kind invitation. I greatly appreciate your initiative to give patients, parents, and health professionals a specific forum against childhood cancer.

We have a major challenge ahead of us. Every year, around 35 000 children are diagnosed with cancer in the European Union. And cancer remains the first cause of death in children up to 14 years of age.  This is a very painful situation that we must address.

Here in this room, we are united in our commitment to achieve better results in early diagnosis and treatment to reduce childhood cancer.

You can count on me to continue supporting research and policy measures to better understand and address childhood cancer.

The EU has a long track-record of supporting the fight against cancer, using all the means and tools at its disposal:  collaborative research, partnerships and coordination of national cancer research efforts.

It is research that will ultimately deliver new cures and therapies.

It is research that will improve our understanding of the causes and mechanisms underlying the onset of childhood cancer, and enable primary prevention.  

Prevention needs to become a cornerstone of our action to address childhood cancer – this is a key target of the SIOPE strategic plan, which I fully endorse. We need to draw more attention to prophylaxis.

We still do not know much about the causes of childhood cancer; and we therefore lack knowledge on how to prevent it – apart from avoiding children's exposure to carcinogens known to affect adults.

To fight paediatric cancer and other rare forms of cancer, it is essential that we all work together, and the Commission is keen to facilitate this process.

Last November, I launched a Joint Action on Rare Cancers – with a specific work package on childhood cancers – precisely to help provide such a joined-up framework for all stakeholders to work together.

I hope that this joint action will help in prioritising rare cancers in national cancer plans and research, and in improving quality of care. I would like to congratulate and thank SIOPE for leading the work package in the field of childhood cancers.

This Joint Action is not our first such initiative. In previous years, the European research programmes have supported significant projects such as the European Network for Cancer research in Children and Adolescents.

And the Health Programme has supported the European Expert Paediatric Oncology Reference Network for Diagnostics and Treatment, which aimed at helping to provide healthcare to children in another Member State.

The EU has also adopted legislation to support and regulate paediatric research and promote the development of medicinal products in rare paediatric indications.

The legislation dealing with medicines for rare diseases - the ‘Orphan Regulation’ - has helped to develop new treatments, including for cancer.

Today, many new anti-cancer medicines are developed as orphan medicinal products. The majority of these, however, target adult cancers.

And while some of these can also be used to treat paediatric cancers, only a few target cancers that primarily affect children.

This is why we need to improve our incentive mechanisms to help develop orphan drugs. To do this, we need to work all together.

Following the 2016 Council conclusions on pharmaceutical systems, the Commission is analysing the impact of incentives on the innovation, availability and accessibility of medicinal products. This includes the market exclusivity for orphan medicinal products and the paediatric rewards.

In parallel, the Commission also works to streamline and improve the application of the current regulatory framework on orphan medicinal products.

In addition, a pan-European study on patient's access to cancer drugs suggests that cancer patients across Europe do not have equal access to new and innovative cancer drugs. To improve this situation, we need greater collaboration with and among Member States, which have the responsibility for access to medical products at national level.

In addition, the Paediatric Regulation succeeded in putting the spotlight on developing paediatric therapies. Companies can no longer ignore paediatric development.

We now see an increasing number of new products for children entering the market. Indeed, more than 900 paediatric development programmes have been agreed under the Regulation – and more than 100 have been completed in recent years.

But there are also, of course, limitations, to what the Regulation can achieve.  

I have met with parents and clinicians who tell me that the Regulation did not speed up the developments of new medicines in paediatric oncology.

As obligations under the Regulation are triggered by the development of adult medicines, the additional paediatric research may not address pressing paediatric needs – especially in diseases that occur only in children, such as many paediatric cancers.

I have listened carefully to these serious concerns and I can assure you that the European Commission is looking closely at this issue.

I would like to invite you all to share your views and concerns on the Paediatric Regulation; we have a public consultation on this open until 17 February: please participate. Your input will feed into a report on the Paediatric Regulation, which the Commission will present later this year.

Finally, we are launching European Reference Networks between healthcare providers and centres of expertise for low prevalence, complex or rare diseases.

In December, Member States designated a new European Reference Network for Paediatric Cancer (haemato-oncology).  

I congratulate SIOPE for its leading role in the creation of this European Reference Network for paediatric cancers.  

I very much hope the network will help children receive the most advanced medical care no matter where in the EU they live.

To ensure that children benefit from this network, we need to trigger solid co-operation between all stakeholders - researchers, medical professionals, industry - and to streamline action within the network. We also need to secure the sustainability of the network.

I am convinced that the Joint Action on Rare Cancers I mentioned earlier, and the European Reference Network for Paediatric Cancer will bring together all stakeholders to:

  • prioritise childhood cancers in national cancer plans, funding of research; and to improve clinical practices
  • and develop innovative and shared solutions, for example in epidemiological registration, policy planning, quality of care, education and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancers.

Let me come back to the SIOPE Strategic Plan I have mentioned earlier – and which represents a consensus of the European Network for Cancer research in Children and Adolescents.

This plan provides an excellent summary of goals and objectives that the Commission will certainly take into account in its activities on cancer.

Children and cancer are an important priority also under the Horizon 2020 programme. There are many opportunities through Horizon 2020 to address SIOPE's strategic plan – for example the clinical networks established under the Innovative Medicines Initiative, or the work on comparative effectiveness. The new work plan 2018-2020 will provide further opportunities.

Finally, we also need strong cooperation with adult oncology for the benefit of all patients. Our Joint Action on cancer - CANCON – provides a solid basis in this regard.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Effective cancer policies can bring enormous benefits. I strongly encourage you to work together to tackle childhood cancers. You can count on my full commitment and support.

For me this is a moral obligation. Childhood cancer is a priority and we need to use all the tools at our disposal – all together – to address it.

Children first!

Thank you for your attention. I wish you all a successful afternoon.