European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europe needs to boost its outdated strategy for fighting cancer and cited her own sister’s death from the disease as her motivation for studying medicine.
“My little sister’s death has changed my life,” von der Leyen said Tuesday, describing the death of her 11-year-old sister of a rare bone tumor.
“It’s also because of her death that I wanted to study medicine and that I became a medical doctor,” she added. “It’s because of her … that I care so much about fighting cancer.”
Von der Leyen’s strikingly personal speech kicked off the nine-month consultation for the cancer plan at a gathering at the European Parliament’s hemicycle. The plan is due by the end of 2020.
“We do not start from scratch,” she said. “But the last European action plan against cancer dates back 30 years. The world has changed. Europe has changed. And the number of cases is sadly on the rise.”
Von der Leyen noted that while up to 40 percent of cancers are considered preventable, about 3 percent of health budgets go toward prevention. She also asked if setting “targets for investment on prevention” is a possibility and called for better data sharing across the bloc.
Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who will spearhead the plan, echoed similar points. She noted the Commission’s deliberations on incentives for new therapies.
“This innovation is pointless unless it is accessible to patients,” Kyriakides said. “The Beating Cancer Plan will help to drive innovation, but it must also help deliver it.”