5 reasons to be optimistic this World Cancer Day

Cancer is one of the European Union’s five mission driven large challenges. The World Cancer Day, marked on the 4th February 2020, aims to save millions of preventable deaths by raising awareness and education about cancer and pressing for collective action. With a large portfolio of innovation projects connected to cancer, EIT Health is committed to contributing to the fight against cancer. Find out more about some of the ways in which we are helping to fighting cancer through innovation!

Every nine seconds, there is a new cancer case diagnosed in the EU[1] and it is currently the second leading cause of death following cardiovascular disease.1 In addition to the considerable impact on the lives of European citizens, cancer puts a huge strain on Europe’s health and social systems as well as the economy.

However, it is estimated that 40% of all cancers could be prevented if we put into practice what we have learnt from decades’ worth of research, data and innovation in the disease area.1

World Cancer Day is a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) which occurs every year on 4th February. It encourages individuals and governments to unite and work together to reduce the number of preventable cancer deaths and improve access to quality treatment.

EU-backed EIT Health’s mission is to enable European citizens to lead longer, healthier lives, and it actively develops patient-centred innovations that aim to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.

Through funding and supporting cross-border European collaborations between leading organisations from business, research, education and healthcare, who runs some of the most promising, leading solutions, EIT Health plays an important role in developing innovations within cancer. From a blood-based prostate cancer test that predicts the risk for aggressive prostate cancer to a potential new novel cancer treatment that selectively targets a protein shared only by cancer cells, therefore avoiding any effect on healthy tissue.

EIT Health CEO Jan-Philipp Beck comments: “Innovation is key to the development of ground-breaking solutions to arm us in the fight against cancer.

We believe that by joining efforts across Europe and working in collaboration across borders we can reach a point where we can reduce the impact of cancer through earlier and more accurate diagnosis, faster and more effective treatment and better support for those living with cancer.”

MEP Manfred Weber of the European Parliament agrees with this sentiment. He adds: “We made the fight against cancer a top priority in the European Union. This is a field where European cooperation can make a real difference. Innovators and entrepreneurs at EIT Health can be part of this historical opportunity.”

With a large portfolio of innovation projects connected to cancer, EIT Health is committed to contributing to the fight against cancer. This World Cancer day, we highlight a few of the very promising projects in the portfolio:


1. Artificial Intelligence is transforming diagnosis

There have been significant advances in the use of AI to diagnose and grade cancers, which has the potential to improve detection and treatment of the disease. EIT Health project, OncoWatch, an AI system, has been proven to be equivalent to experts in prostate cancer diagnosis. In a study published in The Lancet Oncology, it was comparable with international, leading uropathologists in determining the Gleason score, the most important prognostic marker for prostate cancer.[2]

OncoWatch therefore has the potential to significantly reduce the workload of uropathologists, allowing them to focus on the most difficult cases and at the same time acting as a safety net to improve the standardisation of diagnoses. It also has the potential to speed up prostate cancer diagnostics and reduce the costs for healthcare services.

A first CE-marked product of OncoWatch is expected to launch in Europe by the end of the year.


2. A promising new cancer therapy is starting human clinical trials

The protein Myc is found in most human cancers and plays a significant role in the growth of new tumours. It is difficult to attack with drugs due to its location in the nuclei of the cells and its role in the division of healthy cells.

EIT Health supported start-up, Peptomyc relies on peptides, another fundamental component of the cell, to create therapeutics able to fight these Myc proteins. Peptomyc’s peptide-based solution is a new treatment option for cancer options. The treatment is non-toxic, does not cause resistance, improves life-expectancy among patients, and can be used in combination with standard chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Peptomyc is leading globally renowned research into an innovative new therapy which has the potential to transform cancer treatment for patients with many different types of cancer. Their research into inhibiting a protein called Myc, which plays an important role in cancer cells’ survival and proliferation, showed that not only was it feasible to inhibit it, but in doing so it has a therapeutic impact against cancer without damaging healthy tissue.[3]

Peptomyc is now completing the industrial production of their medicine and is planning to start human clinical trials in patients in 2020. Their research has since paved the way for many more groups around the world who are now developing their own Myc inhibitors.[4]



Peptomyc has received support through three different EIT Health programmes. Through EIT Health, the company had access to a vast network of support, which provided the company with funding and helped their innovation advance into clinical testing.


3. A new blood test is improving prostate cancer detection for earlier diagnosis[5]

EIT Health backed project, the Stockholm3 test is a blood test that increases the detection of aggressive cancers by 20% and, at the same time, reduces the number of unnecessary biopsies by 50% compared to current clinical practice. Stockholm3 also identifies men with aggressive prostate cancer with low PSA values, which is crucial for early detection. By reducing unnecessary biopsies and treatment by more than 50% and mortality by up to 20%, Stockholm3 has a significant positive effect on society by reducing individual harm from over-diagnosis, mortality and overall healthcare costs.

The Stockholm3 blood test analyses five protein markers and over 100 genetic markers, along with clinical data, to accurately predict the risk of aggressive prostate cancer, providing an informative indication about whether a biopsy is needed. It is currently used in clinical practice in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark and is in the process of expanding further across Europe and the rest of the world.

Stockholm3 could potentially replace or complement the current PSA test, which can be unreliable, meaning that aggressive forms of prostate cancer can go undetected, thus missing the opportunity for effective early treatment.[6],[7]

Launching Stockholm3 in further markets provides the opportunity to reduce the number of men unnecessarily undergoing biopsy and treatment and identify aggressive cancers earlier, boosting survival rates and reducing healthcare costs.[8]


EIT Health has played a key role in accelerating the development and implementation of Stockholm3. They helped accelerate the uptake and acceptance of the concept, and also supported Stockholm3 with funding. In 2017, Martin Steinberg won the EIT Innovators Award.


4. We are using data to learn more about patient responses to new and emerging immunotherapies

Immunotherapy is a revolutionary approach to cancer treatment that helps your immune system fight cancer, but health professionals still don’t understand why some patients respond to it and others do not.

I4PCM, “Innovation for IT, immunotherapy, and imaging for personalised medicine”, is an EIT Health-backed project that unites several European cancer care centres in an effort to improve the way they share data and thus improve personalised care. The project launched a central database or “Virtual European Cancer Institute” with collective information from the centres about clinical research and patient responses to these new immunotherapies.

By joining efforts to pool information from their clinical, environmental, genomic, imaging and immune biology databases, the data sharing will help to transform clinicians’ and researchers’ approach to cancer research, thereby allowing a deeper understanding of immunotherapy responses than any single centre could achieve on its own.


5. New, non-invasive tests are being created for early intervention in the third most common type of cancer

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer in men and second most common in women, with 450,000 new patients in Europe annually.[9] Even after successful tumour treatment, 50% of patients will develop colorectal liver metastases (CRLM), a severe and often fatal condition.[10]

COLO-MET, “Novel urine test for early detection of colorectal cancer metastases in the liver”, are developing a non-invasive and cost-effective urine test, which, combined with the blood test, can specifically detect CRLM, allowing early intervention of colorectal cancer and earlier treatment.



[1] European Commission. (2020). Conference – Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan: Let’s strive for more. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/health/non_communicable_diseases/events/ev_20200204_en [Accessed Jan. 2020)

[2] The Lancet Oncology. Artificial intelligence for diagnosis and grading of prostate cancer in biopsies: a population-based, diagnostic study, January 2020.

[3] Soucek et al. Modelling Myc inhibition as a cancer therapy. Nature 2008; 455, 679-683.

[4] Whitfield, Beaulieu and Soucek. Strategies to Inhibit Myc and Their Clinical Applicability. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. 2017.

[5] Bergman M, et al. Män som vill testa sig för prostatacancer – en strukturerad modell Läkartidningen;115: FCDT, October 2018

[6] Prostate Cancer UK. (2014). PSA test. [online] Available at: https://prostatecanceruk.org/prostate-information/prostate-tests/psa-test [Accessed Dec. 2019]

[7] NHS. Prostate cancer – PSA testing. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/psa-testing/ [Accessed Dec. 2019]

[8] Bergman M, et al. Män som vill testa sig för prostatacancer – en strukturerad modell Läkartidningen;115: FCDT, October 2018

[9] World Health Organisation. (2012) Colorectal cancer. [online] Available at: http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/noncommunicable-diseases/cancer/news/news/2012/2/early-detection-of-common-cancers/colorectal-cancer [Accessed Jan. 2020]

[10] Chow FC, Chok KS. Colorectal liver metastases: An update on multidisciplinary approach. World J Hepatol. 2019;11(2):150–172. doi:10.4254/wjh.v11.i2.150