'Understanding Life': top scientists respond to urgent call for action to realize breakthrough in cancer research

14 January 2011

A unique gathering of 80 top scientists from all over the world addressed the urgent need to deal with the ever increasing gap between the rapidly growing number of cancer patients, and the development of effective treatment.

The scientists acknowledged the urgent need to define new ways of collaborating on cancer research. Current problems such as competition, data ownership and overregulation can be overcome by stimulating data sharing, standardisation, and patient participation. They succeeded in outlining four programmes that should enable science to turn cancer into a controllable disease within the coming ten years. One of the main results is 'personalized cancer medicine 2.0' aiming at the development of an open innovation space where physicians, patients and scientists can together drive better screening, diagnosis, treatment, and control of cancer.

The conference was initiated by the Foundation Inspire2Live and hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Dutch Central Bank (DNB).

Stephen Friend, president of Sage Bionetworks and leader of the bio banking and data sharing subgroup: "The beauty of Personalized Cancer Medicine 2.0 is that it will activate patients, scientists and citizens to cooperate. Through building platforms that reach patient interests first, issues like data sharing and storing and treatment comparison will be addressed. The uniqueness of this initiative lies in the cooperation between patients, scientists and clinicians. National science academies should play an important role in fostering cross-disciplinary efforts and defining and influencing reward structures."

Another subgroup, headed by René Bernards of the Netherlands Cancer Institute, addressed the question of how to better predict and design treatment for the individual cancer patient. Answers need to tackle the discovery and validation of bio markers – biochemical characteristics that help identify the development of a disease -  and focuses on collaboration and integration of research and development programs.  Rene Bernards: "With new genomic technologies we can turn most forms of cancer from a deadly into a chronic disease, in the next 10 years. This will require grassroots participation by the patients, exactly what created the breakthrough with AIDS."

The third group, led by José Baselga (Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center), looked into innovative clinical treatment concepts like the enhancement of patient participation, dynamic response treatment and – once again – open access and data sharing. The goal as defined by the working group: to develop smaller trials, while aiming at larger effects.  "Patients  are not meant to be there for just one or two months more – we can do better than that.", summarized Jose Baselga the goal of the conference.

Obviously prevention is core in getting cancer in control. While there was common understanding that the main responsibility lies with governments, there is a clear role for scientists. They are instrumental in improving early detection methods and tailored intervention to enhance quality of life of cancer patients and their families. This was the main result of the discussion in the fourth and last working group, headed by Fritz Schröder of the Erasmus Medical Center.

The conference "Understanding Life" was initiated by Inspire2Live, the foundation that aims to get cancer in control by stimulating international cooperation and putting the patient in the centre of all research efforts. Inspire2Live aspires to be the pivotal organization in bringing together cross-disciplinary scientists, clinicians and patients, and keeping alive the sense of urgency to get cancer in control. The foundation has proven to be very successful in organizing fundraising events, both in The Netherlands and abroad. It will be providing the financial resources needed for concrete action proposals. The first proposals coming from the scientific community are due in March 2011.

Peter Kapitein, Ambassador of Inspire2Live emphasized: "In line with our mission, our International Scientific Board will thoroughly screen all submissions on their patient-centricity and collaborative intent".

Note for editors:

For more information:
Inspire2Live, Bart Veilbrief, + 31 6 2648 8198, info@inspire2live.nl