Cancer refers to a group of diseases characterised by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. Cancer and anti-cancer therapies have been researched since the beginning of medicine. Nevertheless, cancer is likely to remain one of the biggest killers of the 21st century.
Cancer now accounts for a quarter of all deaths and is the number one cause of death for people aged 45-64 in an increasing number of Member States overtaking cardiovascular disease. Research in this area continues under Horizon 2020.
In 2006 it was estimated that three million new cases were diagnosed and more than 1.5 million people died from cancer in Europe, making it one of the major health issues (see Annals of Oncology, March 2007 18(3):581-592; doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdl498). In recognition of this development, global research efforts to fight cancer have been ongoing since the 1970's to turn this disease into a chronic, instead of a fatal one.
This goal represents a formidable challenge for researchers and clinicians alike. Cancer is a complex disease caused by interactions of multiple factors, such as genetic predisposition, environmental and lifestyle influences, infectious agents and ageing. The past years have witnessed a dramatic progress in understanding the molecular mechanisms at work in the transformation of a normal cell into a cancer cell. Yet, our knowledge is still far from complete and much remains to be discovered.
Intensive collaboration among scientific, medical, technological and pharmaceutical communities is thus indispensable. Therefore, collaborative research on cancer has been and remains a high priority in the EU framework programmes.
The EU aims to develop improved patient-oriented strategies for combating cancer - ranging from prevention to more effective and earlier diagnosis, but also better treatment with minimal side effects. In order to achieve practical benefits and improve the quality of life of EU citizens, EU-supported research focuses on dissecting the causes and mechanisms of cancer, translating this basic knowledge into clinical applications and supporting clinical research on new and improved interventions. Other important issues related to cancer are also covered, e.g. ageing and cancer, childhood cancers, regional differences, psychosocial aspects, palliative and end-of-life care, survivorship issues and guidance to support groups.
The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7 2007-2013), provided extensive financial support for different areas of frontier and collaborative cancer research, ranging from basic to pre-clinical, clinical and 'back-to-the-bench' research. The focus is on disease aetiology, new medicines and therapies; identifying and validating drug targets and biological markers that aid in the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment; and assessing the effectiveness of preventive prognostic, diagnostic and therapeutic interventions. In total about 1000 projects were funded for EUR 1.5 billion.