On the 19th of November 2014, ECPC launched, within the European Parliament, the document ”Immuno-Oncology: a Policy Action Framework” as well a Guide for Patients on what is immuno-oncology.
For the past few months, ECPC has been honoured to co-chair the European Expert Group on Immuno-Oncology. The Expert Group consists of patient organisations, cancer specialists, researchers and policymakers from across Europe who are working together to help improve awareness and understanding of immuno-oncology amongst policymakers and to propose a framework for action for European and national policymakers to encourage rapid and appropriate access for patients to the most effective I-O therapies.
The event, hosted by MEP Philippe De Backer and MEP Christian Busoi, saw also the participation of MEP Peter Liese and more than 50 other participants representing the patients, physicians, researchers, industry and policy makers.
ECPC President Prof Francesco De Lorenzo moderated the debate among the high level panellists, presenting the patients’ expectations regarding immuno-oncology. Prof De Lorenzo focused on the opportunity for long term survival that immuno-oncology therapies can offer to European cancer patients. He stressed the importance to make immuno-oncology therapies more accessible to patients. During his presentation, available for download below, he stated: “Immuno-oncology therapies offer significant potential for patients with many forms of cancer, and for many of them, they offer long-term remission when no other treatment possibilities exist. Our understanding of how these therapies work is evolving rapidly. Therefore it is essential that we provide patients with accurate, up-to-date information to help them have a meaningful dialogue with their doctors about the role that these therapies may play in their treatment.”
Dr Michele Maio, Director of Medical Oncology and Immunotherapy, University Hospital of Siena and President of the Italian Network of Tumor Bio-Immunotherapy – NIBIT, introduced the topic by providing a general overview on the immuno-oncology state of the art. Along with Maio, immuno-oncology is solidly positioned as the 4th pillar of cancer treatment, although there is still much to be done to make immuno-oncology understood not only to patients but also to general practitioners and even oncologists. Dr Maio showcased the work of NIBIT in relation to patients literacy, which made use also of EU funds.
Dr Cedrik Britten from the Cancer ImmunoTherapy association – CIMT echoed the position of of Dr Maio on patients’ literacy, and presented the work of the Expert Group on its behalf. In particular focusing on the process that led to the creation of the 5 main policy suggestions of the Policy Action Framework. Dr Britten impressed the audience with a clear and precise presentation, stressing that immuno-therapy is not a compound or a new drug, but a toolbox, a new paradigm to fight cancer. The Policy Action framework represents, in this regard, a good starting point for policy makers to tackle the regulatory and structural obstacles that slow down patients’ access to immunotherapies.
Immuno-oncology is already a reality. Some member states, like Belgium, showed to understand the potential of immuno-oncology. Mark van den Bulke, from the Belgian Institute of Public Health, presented his experience and the results achieved in Belgium in this regard.
MEP Christian Busoi showed to have clearly understood the message sent by Dr Britten and the whole Expert Group, praising the efforts made by ECPC and its partners to come up with a Policy Action Framework. He reiterated his personal commitment to keep supporting cancer patients within the Parliament and thanked ECPC for the important role that our organisation is having in making the Intergroup “Health for Citizens” a strong reality in the European Parliament, which Busoi confirmed will keep supporting.
Aside from hosting the event, MEP De Backer did not miss the chance to voice his support for ECPC and for the cause of cancer patients. Drawing from his scientific and professional background, De Backer confirmed the important role that immunotherapy will have in the future. Furthermore, he also expressed his frustration for the fact that the European Institutions have demonstrated a high level of maturity in the field of health implementing several frameworks for cooperation, which however have not be thoroughly translated into action by Member States.
Apart from Prof De Lorenzo, patients were also represented by Tomy Bjorg from Lung Cancer Europe – LUCE, and Szymon Chrostowski from the “Win Health Foundation”. In particular, Mr Chrostowski shared the very fruitful collaboration the Foundation established with the Polish government related to the establishment a partnership to develop a civic formulation of the National Programme for Fighting Cancer.
The panel remained open to questions from the floor. Dr Burcak Karaka from the Turkish Immuno-Oncology Society, and one of the contributors of the Policy Action Framework, took the floor to ask ECPC and all the other Expert Group Partners on the next operative steps to make the Policy Action Framework a reality. Prof De Lorenzo informed the participants of ECPC plan to create an Immuno-Oncology Academy, an information hub for patients and doctors, where create a reliable, simple source of information regarding immune-oncology, targeted to European cancer patients and general practitioners, in order to raise awareness on the potential of immune-oncology and to clear the doubts and misconceptions existing around it.