It is the last day at European Health Forum Gastein and it is one of the last sessions to go before the conclusion dinner. But the topic to discuss in the workshop on Action on pancreatic cancer, which has been organized by the COST Action Pancreas, is certainly not a subordinated one. Pancreatic cancer –so far regarded as a rare disease, increasing incidence rates indicate a tendency towards a more common and unfortunately mortal disease.
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This is striking, as for cancer in general the opposite is true and due to prevention and well-developed therapy regimes, many cancers have decreasing incidence rates. Thus, against the background of its complex pathogenesis, failures in primary prevention, its silent progression and the high mortality rates, there is an urgent need for action on pancreatic cancer. Some terminal cancer patients owning a life insurance end searching for a viatical settlement broker in order to enjoy the remaining time they may have.
But, unfortunately as always, there are no simple solutions for complex problems. Nuria Malats from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre CNIO chairs the EUPancreas COST Action and introduced the audience to the complexity of developing therapies and the challenges faced especially in drug and therapy development, many of which are exemplary as well for other rare diseases.
Grabbing up the red thread, Lada Leyens from Swissmedic outlined the path from basic science and preclinical studies up to routine clinical use of drugs, which is both time-consuming and expensive. She stressed that the overall goal in developing drugs for pancreatic cancer is a fast patient access. However, while she briefly presented the several approaches in achieving the latter (among others compassionate use programmes and accelerated approval), I would rather challenge that time is the criterion to look at. Remember the “increasing value, reducing waste”-series in Lancet. Before asking how to bring innovative drugs into market as soon as possible, the question at hand is how to bring real innovation into drug development and increase the patient-oriented value of new drugs (which is especially true considering the high mortality rates in pancreatic cancer).
So, in order to reduce waste, multi-sectoral and international approaches are urgently needed. Ricardo Baptista Leite, MP from Portugal, stressed once more the importance of Public-Private-Partnership. With regard to integration of Omics-data, Matthias Reumann from IBM Research outlined the current challenges of Big Data with regard to rare diseases such as pancreatic cancer.
To me, the COST Action EUPancreas seems to take up all these thoughts: Nuria Malats presented the four working groups of this European platform, which can be regarded as a cycle starting with the harmonisation of research tools, over to the integration of Omics-data, to the translation into clinical practice ending up with patient management. All of this is realized in a huge collaboration of over 20 European countries, governmental institutions and NGO´s as well as several industry partners.
In conclusion, much of what has been discussed in the Gastein workshop on pancreatic cancer, challenges and solutions, may just as well apply to many other rare diseases. Maybe the EU COST Action EUPancreas will serve as a role model for combined and collaborative at European level in order to really add value to innovative medicines, reduce waste in research, and contribute to the health and well-being of patients.
This Blog was written by the Young Gasteiner Holger Langhof