AMSTERDAM The world faces a rapidly growing burden of cancer which will overwhelm governments unless the medical and pharma industry takes the lead on a multi-billion dollar private-public fund, oncologists said on Monday.
In a report on how rates of cancer diagnosis and death are rising across the world while access to diagnosis and treatment is extremely patchy, experts described the economics of the problem as daunting and current financing models as broken.
"It is bad to have cancer, and worse to have cancer if you are poor," said Professor Peter Boyle of France's International Prevention Research Institute, a lead author on the "State of Oncology 2013" report.
"Many parts of the world are already unable to cope with the current situation and are totally unprepared for the future growth of the cancer problem," he told a briefing during the European Cancer Congress in Amsterdam.
Boyle, who is also director of the Institute of Global Public Health at Strathclyde University, cited 2009 estimates by the Economist Intelligence Unit that it would cost $217 billion a year to bring cancer diagnosis, care and treatment in poor countries up to the standards of wealthy nations.
"There's no single source of philanthropy, there's no government, there's no company, there's no single institution that can afford that sort of investment," he said.
"The current model of financing is broke. We need to fix it. We need radical solutions."
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the disease will kill more than 13.2 million people a year by 2030, almost double the number in 2008 - and the vast majority of deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.
In poorer countries, Boyle said, where equipment, expertise and medicines for cancer are scarce and sometimes non-existent, the increasing burden of the disease threatens to cause "devastating damage to entire families".
Boyle's report projected that with growing and ageing populations in some of the world's most populous countries, such as India, China and Nigeria, as well as changing diets and lifestyles, the number of cases of cancer worldwide would reach 26.4 million a year by 2030 and the annual death toll would head towards 17 million.
"It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that there is a need for a major public-private partnership, involving a number of sources from different areas, to make the necessary progress with the briefest delay," he said.
He said such a partnership needed the commitment of the drug companies, as well as industries involved in diagnostic and treatment technology such as scanning and radiotherapy equipment.
Asked how he envisaged such a fund working, Boyle pointed to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a public-private partnership set up in 2002 which has made impressive progress in tackling epidemics of those three deadly infectious diseases.
The Global Fund, which gets most of its money from OECD governments, this month said it needed another $15 billion to support its next three years' work.
Yet the funds and commitment needed to tackle cancer would far outstrip the Global Fund's size, Boyle said, advocating a new industry-led approach committed not only to giving funds, but donating knowledge, medicines, equipment and training.
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)