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Remaining in the EU is vital to maintaining the UK’s global strength in cancer research and care, say leading oncologists

Writing in the May issue of The Lancet Oncology, leading oncologists from the UK and EU express their support for the UK remaining in Europe. In doing so, they join many other scientists and clinicians1 who have publically declared their support for remaining in the EU when Britain votes in the referendum on 23rd June, 2016.

They write that the UK contributes substantially to EU cancer research funding, strengthening the research area as a whole, and benefits through research grants and by being involved in important multinational collaborations. UK science also benefits from the free movement of people, with 15% of academic staff at UK institutions being non-UK EU nationals.

Although the authors point to examples of the EU’s negative impact on cancer research, such as the European Clinical Trials Directive which led to increased bureaucracy and costs for running clinical trials, and recent concerns over the EU Data Protection Regulation, they argue that EU-wide cooperation is essential to develop and protect the UK’s prominent role in cancer research and care. The authors say that collaboration in cancer research has seen standards of care, research and the rights of patients in the UK and Europe improve significantly, all greatly facilitated by the EU.

Four leading cancer researchers and oncologists, including the Director of the Francis Crick Institute, London UK, and President of the Association of Cancer Physicians and the European Cancer Concord as well as the Chair of the European Cancer Organisation Patient Advisory Committee2 write:

“We believe that a continued strong collaboration and shared work and funding in cancer research with EU partners, together with sharing best practice in cancer care, is vital to maintain the UK’s role in cancer research and improve UK cancer services. This alliance will be most effectively delivered by remaining in the EU and robustly supporting research and patient-focused legislation. We must continue to influence and share European policy in important domains such as clinical trials, data sharing, and clinical best practice, and deliver the highest quality cancer research that underpins improved cancer care for our patients. It is for these reasons that we oppose the UK leaving the EU.”

The President and President-elect of the European Society for Medical Oncology3 write:

“The flexing of muscles in Brussels is shaking important, formerly rock-solid, foundations. With a British departure, both sides would be missing powerful and irreplaceable influencers in our unified ambitions aimed at conquering cancer. As investors may lose their confidence in a united Europe, powerful infrastructures could also crumble. Research partnerships spurred through EU investments could weaken, or even disappear. Post-exit uncertainty would inevitably affect European oncology research and care and would necessitate a lengthy period of adaptation as we grapple with the aftermath. Formal establishment of national borders does not make for good cancer science, treatment, or care. To get the best out of Europe, we all need to be in it and not isolated from it.”

In an accompanying editorial, the editors of The Lancet Oncology write:

“Almost all scientific researchers and clinicians who have spoken out in this debate have expressed their preference to remain in the EU, citing the need to maintain the position of strength that the UK currently occupies. To rock this solid foundation would undermine the provision of care to all patients with cancer – not just for those patients currently in multicountry clinical trials, or under the care of an EU specialist – and would weaken vital research that could save lives in the future.”