Sixth Framework programme should give boost to coherent European cancer research projects

Brussels 20 September 2002European Union Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin supported the creation of a European cancer research area when speaking at the conference "Towards greater coherence in European cancer research" on 19 September. Two EU funded research projects addressing new therapies for cancer were presented. "Cell Therapy" is developing new therapies for brain tumours using encapsulated cell technology, and "Inducible Melanoma" is developing anti-melanoma therapies using a mouse model.


Mr. Busquin believes that fragmentation and duplication of research across the European Union mean that the considerable resources devoted to cancer research are not producing the results expected by both health practitioners and citizens. In addition to fragmentation, the Commissioner pinpointed regulatory conditions, intellectual property right provisions, the ageing research community, and the lack of dialogue between science and society as factors hindering cancer research.

While no figures for the European Union as a whole are available, statistics do show that 240.000 new cases of cancer are detected every year in France alone. Cancer is also responsible for 24 percent of all deaths in the United Kingdom. In the year 2000, more than 30.500 new cases of brain tumours were diagnosed within the European Union. During the same year, approximately 22.300 people died from the disease. Despite aggressive surgery and post-operative radiation and chemotherapy, the average patient will live for only 60 weeks.

The solution, according to Mr. Busquin, is the Sixth Framework programme (FP6). "The European Commission is there to act as a catalyst and to support through the Framework programme and its political influence, actions and collaborations that have a structuring and structural impact", he stated. For the first time, FP6 will explicitly cover clinical research. This will enable scientists working on pure research and on clinical research to work together in extensive networks of excellence and integrated projects, two of the new instruments under FP6.

This should facilitate the conversion of scientific breakthroughs into applications and action, which will benefit patients faster. EU funds will be used to assess new therapies or validate molecular targets for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Mr. Busquin explained that FP6 will also support smaller scale projects, which could examine specific aspects of cancer research. He also pointed to the increased budget for researcher mobility under FP6, which will enable EU Member States to attract the best researchers in the world.

One of the two new cancer research projects introduced at the conference is "Cell Therapy", which involves five partners from Norway, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Germany. These partners want to develop new therapeutic approaches to brain cancer.

The aim of the project is to generate a cell based targeted therapeutic delivery system. This will consist of living cells which will produce substances inhibiting the growth of blood vessels to the tumour. After implantation in the brain, the immobilised cells are able to survive for long periods and continuously produce tumour growth inhibitory substances. An important aspect of this approach is that delivery of substances by the encapsulated cells is local, near the site of the tumour.

The second project "Inducible Melanoma" is seeking to address the increasing incidence of melanoma among the European population, the fact that tumours are generally resistant to radio and chemotherapy and the identification of tumour associated antigens. By addressing the questions of why the immune system is inefficient at eliminating antigenic tumours, and how the capacity of the immune system to destroy tumour cells can be boosted, the project consortium hopes to develop anti-melanoma therapies.

A mouse model is being developed by the project team. It will mimic sporadic onset and progression. New tools will allow the monitoring of tumour antigen-specific immune responses as the tumour develops, and the effects of vaccination on antigen-specific immune responses, and tumour progression will also be monitored.

The consortium hopes to prove that non-invasive imaging can be used to monitor the effects of treatment and to make the model available for pre-clinical research. Eventually the project should be extended to other partners to include different types of skin cancers.

Leslie Versweyveld

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