European Association for Cancer Research’s Chief Executive Officer, Jane Smith, explains why the advancement of cancer research is purely for the public benefit, as well as the importance of collaboration in the field
The European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) is a membership organisation for those studying and working in cancer research. In 2018 we celebrated our 50th anniversary. Since its inception in 1968, the Association has grown into a community of more than 10,000 members around the world. Our aim and that of each one of our members is simply the advancement of cancer research for the public benefit. When the EACR was founded, cancer was feared, treatments were in their infancy, survival rates were low and the importance of prevention was only just beginning to be understood.
Today, prevention and early detection are as much a part of cancer research as the quest for new treatments. We have also seen a shift from cancer treatments being one size fits all, to today’s focus on treatments truly personalised to the individual depending on their genome, age, lifestyle and a myriad of other factors.
Despite this progress, there were 9.6 million deaths from cancer worldwide in 2018 and it is predicted there will be 27.5 million new cancer cases worldwide each year by 2040 if recent trends in incidence of major cancers and population growth are seen globally in the future. (1)
Our members know that today’s science is tomorrow’s medicine but the crucial early research is often unseen by the public and its importance under-appreciated. Each year, we ask our members for their views on the challenges they face and the research topics they think the EACR should prioritise for the coming year. From the 2018 survey, we know that the greatest obstacle our members face is funding: the constant need to apply for funding, the time taken away from research in order to apply, and the difficulty in being successful, even if the project is excellent, due to the lack of funds available. Even when successful, the short-term nature of many grants also makes it difficult for some researchers to take on ambitious projects and is almost certainly affecting the quality of the research that is being conducted. It is also having an impact on research careers because it makes it difficult to formulate long-term plans. Some might become so discouraged that they give up research altogether.
To respond to this issue, we work alongside other organisations in cancer policy, to raise the profile of cancer research and the need for funding. Collaboration is a way of life for us and our members. Cancer knows no boundaries and, despite the difficult political situation in Europe, we are committed to the concept that science has no borders; where a researcher is based should not make a difference to their ability to conduct research. One of the EACR’s main reasons for existing is to encourage collaboration among cancer researchers, across Europe and also globally. One of the ways we do this is through conferences. Such conferences enable researchers to learn from and interact with each other at small, high-quality, focused scientific meetings. Meeting Bursaries help those without funds to attend. In 2019, three of our conferences will be on the topics of genomics, liquid biopsies and immunooncology. These topics were identified as key by our members and reflect those three strands of prevention, detection and treatment.
Beyond our own immediate community of cancer researchers, collaboration is also vital as the lines between the laboratory and the clinic continue to blur. To this end, the EACR seeks to work with like-minded organisations whenever we can. We are partners in the ESMO 2019 Congress, seeking to bring together researchers and oncologists to learn from each other’s expertise and try to bridge the gap between research and treatment. We work closely with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), to bridge the U.S.-Europe divide, and we also work with organisations with a narrower focus – for example on lung cancer or metastasis – recognising that the breadth of cancer research is huge and ever-changing.
We are a founding member of World Cancer Research Day, established through the collaboration of organisations, associations and researchers from around the world. This initiative is designed to contribute to the objectives of the World Cancer Declaration in promoting cancer research and keeping its momentum going. We encourage organisations and individuals to join us in supporting World Cancer Research Day and communicating the importance of scientific research in the global fight against cancer. ■
Chief Executive Officer
European Association for Cancer Research
Tel: 44 (0)115 951 5060