Data. The New Gold in Cancer Care and Research

January 2023

Every year, in January, the great and the good of the international governmental leader community, meet in snowy Switzerland for the political jamboree that is the World Economic Forum in Davos. 

Critics of such gatherings of the private jet set might charge that such expensive and hyped events simply add to the global over-supply of political ‘hot air’. However, when reviewing the large items of the EU’s policy agenda – from climate, to digital, to social policy – that hallmarks of ‘DavosThink’ are clearly present. 

In particular, the World Economic Forum has been strongly promoting the concept of “the fourth industrial revolution’ for the attention of worldwide decision-makers. This notion holds that the first industrial revolution brought about ground-breaking adoption of steam power, the second electric power to create mass production, and the third electronics and information technology to automate production. The fourth industrial revolution is the acceleration of digital into whole new areas with anticipated major impact. Including cancer care. 

If we look then at areas of large scale political and financial investment by the EU in cancer, we can detect the hallmarks of fourth industrial revolution concerns. 2022 saw the publication of highly ambitious new legal proposals to create a European Health Data Space, which in 2023 will face the difficult task of passage through a data protection focused European Parliament and a implementation challenge concerned Council of EU Member States [1]. 2022 also saw impressive financial commitments to improving the digital literacy of healthcare professionals, which in 2023 will be taken up via a number of projects including ones led by Turku University of Applied Sciences and by the Cyprus University of Technology which ECO is pleased to be supporting. 

2023 has now kicked off with the official launch of a further digital initiative in cancer [2]: the European Cancer Imaging Initiative. With the support of two EU Commissioners (Stella Kryiakides, Health Commissioner & Thierry Breton, Internal Market Commissioner), the initiative aims to give greater infrastructure to the deployment of artificial intelligence in the field of cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment by creating a common database of millions of images available to European researchers and physicians. 

The broad array of digital initiative in cancer care being supported at the very highest levels of the European Commission, the scale of financial commitment, and the language and justifications provided at launch by political leaders, gives credence to how ideas promoted at forums like the World Economic Forum can percolate into real world differences in policy and investment choices by bodies such as the EU. It also reminds us of the big macro political agendas that the cancer community must be mindful of as we all prepare to make our case for continued policy support in the run up to the 2024 European Parliament elections.  

[1] See most recent published positioning by the European Cancer Organisation on the European Health Data Space here.

[2] More information about the launch of the European Cancer Imaging Initiative here.