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European policy makers face two challenges in funding cancer research. They need to do more about the major differences in spending between the European Union's 27 member states, instead of trying to bridge the gap with the United States, and give more thought to closer cooperation among different projects and the creation of transnational research programmes.
This advice is contained in the second report from the European Cancer Research Managers Forum, published this week. Established in 2001, the forum has two main aims: to promote better understanding and cooperation among the global funders of cancer research and to ensure that this research is advanced by applying an evidence based policy.
The forum estimates that €3.2bn (£2.2bn; $4.4bn) was spent on cancer research in Europe in 2004. Of this sum, €1.9bn came from 155 non-commercial funding organisations. Although this is well short of the €5.1bn allocated by similar sources in the United States, it represents a 38% increase in funding in Europe financing, in comparison with the results of the first survey two years ago. In contrast, funding in the US has remained relatively static. The remaining European funds, €1.3bn, came from national healthcare systems and universities.
Commenting on the findings, Richard Sullivan, the forum's chairman and author of the report, noted that in the past two years nearly 60% of EU countries had increased their funding of cancer research in real terms. However, one third had not.
“The major policy issue is the real differences in cancer research investment between the [EU] member states themselves, rather than the prevailing gaps in cancer research funding between Europe and the US, which have been a driving force for EU policy making to date,” he said.
Of the EU countries the UK devoted the most resources to cancer research, at €783m, divided almost equally between charitable and government funding, followed by Germany (€324m). The UK also came out top in terms of spending per capita on cancer research (figure(figure)) and as a proportion of gross domestic product. In contrast, at least 15 EU countries, mainly the 12 new members, devoted €5m or less.
With more than 100 major funders in Europe and the US each spending more than €1m a year on cancer research, Professor Sullivan said that the time was ripe for a more cooperative approach, especially towards international research programmes.
The report also attempts to calculate the amount that major drug companies spend in this area. It estimates that this sector's spending totals almost €3.1bn—equivalent to 22% of total worldwide spending on the disease. The three leaders in the field are Novartis (€353m), Aventis (€342m), and Roche (€312m).
Investments and Outputs of Cancer Research: From the Public Sector to Industry is available at www.ecrmforum.org.