New prospects for Cancer Patients, Scientific Research and Investments in Health with the ACCC

At the Formal Opening Event of the ACCC – from right to left: Mr. Matti Arvela – Gen. Manager AMGEN Greece & Cyprus, Dr. Vasilis Gregoriou – President of the NHRF, Mr. Evagelos Antonatos – CEO of ADMORE, and Dr. Emmanuel Alexan-drakis – Adjunct Professor, Health Sector Strategy, Athens University of Economics and Business and CEO of LMG).

The establishment of the Athens Comprehensive Cancer Center (ACCC), a partnership between the National Hellenic Research Foundation (NHRF), the DKFZ German Cancer Research Center, the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, and a cluster of Cancer Hospitals & Research Centers in the Athens area, was announced on Friday, December 8th, 2017, at an event that was organized under the Auspices of H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Prokopios Pavlopoulos.

This collaboration with two of the most important organizations in Germany, the DKFZ, the largest biomedical research center in Germany and the Helmholtz Association, the largest research organization in Europe, signifies the trust placed by the German Government in the potential of scientific medical research excellence that exists in Greece, something that the German Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Greece, Mr. Jens Plötner,  explicitly stated on behalf of the German Government.  The ACCC aspires in becoming a European hub of excellence for interdisciplinary cancer related research and will bring daily clinical practice closer to personalized oncology research.

The main objective of the ACCC is to strengthen interdisciplinary research on cancer, aiming at improving the lives of patients with this multifactorial and heterogeneous disease. This is the first Comprehensive Cancer Center in Greece, and as such is expected to directly and substantially improve health of the population, but also to create real world clinical evidence for the scientific community overall. Interestingly so, today it is estimated that around 50% of all hospital beds are located in the Athens metropolitan area, and given the high rates of their occupancy, a critical mass of patients is available. This allows for a scientifically meaningful collaboration between Research Centers and specialized University Departments with Hospitals and the concomitant development of synergies and the introduction of specialized medical services. These upcoming technologically mature advanced services will be transferred directly into daily clinical practice.

The ACCC was selected by the Helmholtz Association as a pilot project in the framework of the Helmholtz European Partnering Program and was approved to receive funding by an international panel of experts on cancer. This collaboration will predominantly include a series of joint research activities among clinicians (oncologists, pathologists, surgeons) and a wide range of researchers from various research laboratories in Athens. Furthermore, an exchange program is foreseen for scientists from the ACCC to conduct research at DKFZ, as well as for scientists from DKFZ to spend time with the ACCC partners in Athens, both Research Centers and Oncology Clinics.

More specifically, new structures for the improvement of clinical and translational research will be implemented, such as a Center for Clinical and Preclinical Studies, Molecular Diagnostics, National Cancer Recording System, Biobanks, and an integrated  National Oncology Information System. In the longer term, the goal of this initiative is to evolve in an organization where multidisciplinary biomedical scientists will be able to effectively work together under a set of common goals. Therefore, oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists, bio-scientists working on molecular diagnosis and drug discovery, as well as researchers that specialize on molecular mechanisms of cancer as a disease, could coordinate their efforts and optimize results.

Last but not least, a key ambition of the ACCC will be to promote personalized treatments for oncology patients, but also to build a capacity to rapidly translate research results into everyday clinical practice and facilitate patient access to new drugs for oncology patients through clinical trials. Great emphasis will also be given on the prevention of cancer.

From an economic point of view, this initiative could contribute in attracting investments in medical related oncology R&D in the country, offer immediate benefits to the treatments of cancer patients, but also become a center for shaping policies that could benefit the healthcare systems overall. In cancer therapies only interdisciplinary approaches could give solutions to the growing problem of constrained public health budgets in view of the introduction of new innovative medicines, bio-diagnostics developments, and combined therapeutic options. The proper management of cancer therapies by National Health Systems is globally a pressing need if National Systems would aspire to continue to deliver to patients, given that new therapies are expected to impose a significant financial burden to shrinking public health budgets.

In this first wave the participant organizations are laboratories from Research Centers (NHRF, Demokritos), the University of Athens and public hospitals with a significant involvement in cancer treatment (Alexandra, Aghia Sophia, Agios Savvas, Attikon Hospital, General Hospital of Athens G. Gennimatas). These organizations, at this initial stage, will participate in the ACCC clinical research activities in the areas of Biobanking, Multiple Myeloma, Paediatric Cancers, Colorectal Cancer, Gynaecological (breast and ovarian) Cancer, Head and Neck Cancer, and contribute to evidence and data integration in these disease areas.

The extent to which the Greek government and other healthcare stakeholders in Greece will embrace this ambitious and promising initiative, and in effect support its activities, is to be seen and will eventually dictate the success of the ACCC as a European reference point in cancer research and oncology policy formulation.