Europe is a “second class continent” for cancer research

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 31 March 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:746
  1. Rory Watson
  1. Brussels

    Funding for cancer research in the European Union lags far behind that in the United States and varies enormously from one EU country to another, a new survey by the European Cancer Research Managers Forum shows.

    Produced with the support of the European Commission, the survey is the first comprehensive analysis of cancer research funding in Europe. It identified 139 sources of non-commercial financing that provided €1.43bn (£1bn; $1.9bn) in 2002-3.

    The investigation by the forum, which was set up in 2001 to promote networking and cooperation among national funding bodies and strategic decision makers, showed that the gapbetween the EU and the United States in this area is much wider than originally thought. US per capita spending (€17.63) is seven times that in the EU (€2.56), and its spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is four times that in the EU.

    Commenting on the finding, Richard Sullivan, the forum's chairman, said: “This gap is a substantial threat to the ability of the EU to translate cancer research into patient benefit.”

    The discrepancies are even more marked between countries in the EU. In the study period (2002-3) the country that spent the most was the United Kingdom (€388m), while Malta spent nothing. Britain also leads when funding is expressed as a percentage of gross domestic product, followed by Sweden, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

    The survey shows that the EU concentrates much of its spending on basic research, at the expense of preventive and clinical research. Biology receives 41% of all cancer research funding, compared with 20% for treatment and 4% for prevention. The corresponding figures in the US are 25%, 25%, and 9%.

    Gordon McVie, senior consultant to the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, described the findings as “a clarion call” to the European Commission, which awarded around €90m to research in this area, to increase its funding.

    “The survey shows that Europe is a second class continent in terms of cancer research funding,” he said.

    The European cancer research funding survey is available at

    View Abstract

    Sign in

    Log in through your institution

    Free trial

    Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
    Sign up for a free trial