The much-awaited ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ intends to create a knowledge centre to coordinate the scientific and technical cancer-related initiatives at the EU level, including the European health data space, according to a leaked draft of the plan.
Despite the COVID crisis stealing the spotlight over the past few months, the EU-wide plan to combat cancer has remained one of the priorities of Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission when it comes to public health.
The plan, originally expected to be presented back in December, will be unveiled next week and aims to support and coordinate member states’ efforts across every stage of cancer care, including prevention and quality of life of survivors.
As outlined in a draft version of the EU Cancer Plan seen by EURACTIV, the creation of a knowledge centre is listed by the Commission as one of the key flagship initiatives on research, innovation and digitalisation.
The plan outlines that the centre, which is due to be launched early on in 2021, will seek to ensure a common approach and to guarantee that efforts are “effective, sustainable, and coherent across the Union”.
“It will act as a knowledge broker, connecting ongoing work on best practice implementation and guidelines for screening and treatment with new actions under the plan,” the draft reads.
This includes playing a key role in the coordination of initiatives with relevance for cancer control, including the European health data space and the research under the cancer mission.
The creation of a common European data space is one of the main priorities of the Commission in 2019-2025. This health data space is envisaged to promote better exchange and access to different types of health data, as well as provide a basis for health research and health policy-making purposes.
Health sector: ‘data rich but information poor’
The strategy places digital and data at the core of cancer-fighting efforts, pointing out that while as much as 30% of the world’s stored data are currently produced by health systems, the health sector is a long way behind other sectors when it comes to exploiting the potential of digitalisation.
Highlighting that it is a sector which is “data rich but information poor”, the plan emphasises the potential of a digital transformation in a way which ensures that the “right information is accessible to the right person at the right time”.
“Electronic health data are set to become crucial tools in cancer prevention and care. They will ensure that clinical information is shared efficiently between oncologists, radiologists and surgeons, enhancing the patients’ treatment and chance of survival,” the plan reads.
The plan also emphasises that cancer care will also benefit from better exploitation of real-world data using powerful tools, like artificial intelligence and high-performance computing.
Pairing this information with other data sets will provide “better insights on the efficacy of treatments and their optimisation,” the plan highlights.
In particular, the plan notes the potential of combining this data with cancer genetics information.
“Genetic research has the potential to transform cancer, including by improving preventive measures, early detection, diagnosis and treatment through innovative approaches and instruments,” the draft reads, adding that it can also be crucial in identifying the best tailor-made diagnostics and treatment in personalised medicine.
As such, the plan envisages launching a ‘Genomic for Public Health’ project in 2021.
This project is designed to support member states in establishing a system and infrastructure to oversee the rapid evolution of genomics and the utility of the genomics technology along the entire disease spectrum.
It will include developing guidelines and recommendations to better determine who and what to test and helping member states to organise health services to implement genetic testing, as well as providing specific education and training for health workers.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]