ESMO 2012 Press Release: Will bureaucracy stifle the development of new cancer treatments?

Vienna, Austria, 28 September 2012

The development of truly personalised treatments for cancer patients could be delayed if bureaucracy is allowed to stifle clinical trials, the president of Europe's leading society of medical oncologists has warned.

“Real progress is being made towards preventing, treating and curing cancer – and the next 10 to 15 years will see us make real strides toward genuinely personalised treatment for cancer patients,” ESMO president Dr Martine Piccart, told journalists at the opening press conference of the European Society for Medical Oncology's ESMO 2012 Congress.

“At the moment we are in the era of 'stratified' medicine for cancer, not yet personalised medicine,” Dr Piccart said. “For personalised medicine, we need to know more than simply that a person's tumour has particular biological characteristics. We also need to know whether drugs targeted at those characteristics will actually work for individual patients.”

“But as a society we are very concerned about the huge bureaucracy involved in running clinical trials,” Dr Piccart told the opening press conference of the meeting. “We hope that the new clinical trials directive due to come into force in 2016 will facilitate research,” she said.

Another new directive in development also has a potentially important impact on clinical trials, Dr Piccart said: the new Data Protection Regulation, currently in draft form. “In cancer research, we need to be able to share data,” the ESMO President said.

“Cancer is a huge problem in all respects including mortality, costs and inequalities. It can only be tackled through co-operation, and ESMO is working closely with international organisations as well as national cancer societies, because we fully believe that strength is in unity.”

Cancer affects a quarter of the population and remains the second highest cause of death behind cardiovascular disease. Although significant strides are being made in the treatment of cancer, the numbers of patients with the disease is increasing as the population lives longer,  Prof Fortunato Ciardiello, ESMO Press Officer, said at the press conference.

“When I was young, cancer was considered to be a disease that was not curable. Every day as oncologists we are working to cut the 'not' out of that equation,” Prof Ciardiello said.

At the ESMO 2012 Congress, more than 16,000 attendees will hear data from a record number of abstracts – 2,200 in total, up 30% with respect to the ESMO 2010 Congress. Dr Josep Tabanero, ESMO 2012 Scientific Chair, said: “We are tremendously excited about this Congress. We are expecting around 16,000 delegates, which represents a substantial increase over the last meeting.”

“What’s really exciting is that we have new data on more than 100 Phase III studies - those which are in the last stage of clinical trials. We’re optimistic that among these will be practice-changing breakthroughs that will lead to new treatments and improved patient outcomes in the not too distant future.”

The congress will also host a study into the economic effects of cancer, not just on hospitals but also on family, friends and the wider economy.  Prof Ciardiello said: “This study used an economic approach to find the total cost of the most common forms of cancer in the major member states of Europe.

“It took account of the cost of primary care, hospitalisation and drugs along with the financial cost to families when patients and relatives are unable to work, and also the human cost when family members suffer from stress and even depression.”