On the occasion of the European Week against Cancer, we shed light on the European Commission’s initiatives to accelerate cancer research. Under the Horizon Europe framework, it formulated the Mission Cancer and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, demonstrating a strong political commitment to fighting cancer. In funding numerous research projects, the EU will deliver concrete solutions by 2030.
Mission Cancer and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, cancer was responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in 2020. If no action is taken, the number of people newly diagnosed with cancer every year in Europe will rise from currently 3.5 million to 4.3 million by 2035. This puts a tremendous burden on patients, their social environments, and the public health system. Mission Cancer, therefore, has four research objectives: cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis with treatment and improving the quality of life for patients and their families. The European Commission further seeks to facilitate equal access to cancer prevention and care, and to support medical caretakers through an inter-speciality training programme. In total, €4 billion of funding will be dedicated to Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, including €1.25 billion from the future EU4Health programme. The European Union seeks to be at the forefront of funding research and innovation on cancer.
MSCA-funded cancer research
The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) is the European Union’s flagship funding programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training of researchers. It funds projects across all domains and encourages international, interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral research collaboration.
The MSCA programme supports numerous projects within the field of cancer research. In 2021, the European Research Executive Agency hosted a large Cluster event on cancer research and innovation, presenting the work of over 50 promising MSCA projects. Researchers discussed their findings on prevention and personalised medicine, diagnostics support to clinicians, drug development and therapy, immunotherapy and the quality of life of patients and survivors. The event was also a platform for MSCA researchers, cancer experts and European Commission policy-makers to exchange ideas on how to improve EU policies in the fight against cancer.
Along with other EU-funded health programmes, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions help pave the way toward a strong, cancer-free European Health Union.
Find a selection of MSCA-funded projects below.
Understanding immunotherapy resistance
Despite the fact that immunotherapies have shown significant effect in multiple cancers in the clinic, some patients do not respond to this kind of therapy. Thus, it is essential to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating tumour immunosuppression. Like many tumour cells, melanoma cells secrete small extracellular vesicles (EVs) with pro-tumorigenic properties. Melanoma EVs express PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) that suppresses T cell function and facilitates tumour growth in pre-clinical mouse models. The MSCA-funded project UNPACK-PDL1 has significantly improved the understanding of the molecular mechanisms driving PD-L1 sorting into and release through extracellular vesicles from melanoma cells. Most importantly, the project identified inhibitors against the immunosuppressive actions, as well as the stratification of those patients that will now respond to this therapy.
Facilitating breast cancer diagnosis
Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancer types in the world among women. Early detection can considerably help treatment. However, resources, skilled personnel, and laboratories to diagnose breast cancer at a curable stage are often missing. The MSCA project SHINE researches DNA and RNA mutations in blood to advance a non-invasive procedure for cancer diagnosis, called liquid biopsy. It has developed a proof of concept for a handheld low-cost diagnostic device to detect cancer from blood. SHINE thereby facilitates user-friendly, rapid, equipment-free and low-cost diagnosis of breast cancer. The project contributes to the EU’s commitment to improve equal access to cancer detection and care.
Treating a highly-aggressive cancer type
Another MSCA-supported research project is PDASwITch, which focuses on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This type of cancer is highly aggressive and often lethal. PDASwITch researches stratification of the cancer into different subtypes. The project seeks to characterise the dynamic crosstalk between PDAC cells and investigate its effects on their phenotype. Using a combination of advanced genome engineering technologies and next-generation sequencing techniques, it aims to provide an in-depth understanding of how the tumour microenvironment induces PDAC subtype switching. In designing agents targeting PDAC cells’ crosstalk processes, the project works to convert non-responder tumours into responder ones. PDASwITch ultimately strives to improve targeted treatment for PDAC victims.
A pledge to EU citizens
In February 2020, Ursula von der Leyen presented Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to the European Parliament. She said: “Together we can make a difference. With prevention and with research. With equal access across Europe. Standing at the side of those who need us.” The next years will see numerous MSCA-funded research projects that work determinedly towards a cancer-free future.
- Publication date
- 25 May 2022 (Last updated on: 31 January 2023)
- European Research Executive Agency