Status of cancer research in Spain

The personal, social and economic impact of cancer is of huge magnitude and the aging of the population increases its incidence:

  • Second cause of death in Europe, the first among those under 65.
  • In Spain, more than 270,000 people are diagnosed each year.
  • By 2030, the diagnosis of a new case is expected in Spain every 1.8 minutes, and one death every 3.8 minutes.
  • Mortality in some types of cancer remains very high
  • The overall five-year survival rates, below 60%, do not improve quickly enough.

Given this situation, today more than ever, it is essential to increase and optimise efforts in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, strengthening scientific research and innovation, and accelerating its transfer to public policies and clinical practice.

What is the state of innovation in Spain?

As the Report on Cancer Research in Spain written by ASEICA in conjunction with the AECC and the La Caixa Foundation reveals, our country has its light and dark areas.

The most important aspect is human capital: the Spanish system has a large number of competitive research groups on an international level, capable of attracting private and international funds and with the ability to train new scientists and technologists. These groups work in a variety of cancer models and pathways of potential therapeutic interest.

There is a good scientific ecosystem composed of leading research centres and technological platforms, missing the development of an appropriate industrial fabric that allows the transfer of research efforts to the company.

In addition, there is excellent social awareness about the importance of research to improve the lives of patients, as evidenced by the increase in funding by patient societies such as the AECC. This society dedicates more money to cancer research today than the National Program of the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Despite this, the system is far from optimal due to the stagnation of government funds, the chaos in the calls for projects and administrative measures that have increased the bureaucracy associated with project management. This situation insistently denounced by ASEICA makes research and innovation travel with heavy wheels.

Patent production

Spain produces three times less patents in the area of ​​cancer than France, five times less patents than Germany, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands and seven times less patents than the US.

Despite its extensive development over these years, the transfer offices still do not exercise a proactive role in the detection of knowledge to be protected, the management and application of patents and in the subsequent “sale” of the product to the industrial sector.

Business entrepreneurship

The generation of start-ups in the biomedical field is below the European average. In Europe approximately 400 biomedicine-related start-ups distributed throughout 16 countries have been created during the 2013-2017 period. The leading countries in this area are Switzerland, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom and Sweden. On the contrary, Spain is in the last positions only ahead of Norway, Italy and Poland.

This problem has a common denominator: the lack of proper R&D financing. This list includes features countries that earmark close to or greater than 3% of their GDP to R&D&i (Spain allocates 1.2%).

Clinical trials

On the one hand, there is substantial involvement in clinical trials, significantly above the European average. However, there is poor leadership, because coordination by Spanish groups only occurs in fewer than 20% of cases.
It is also striking that 80% of trials correspond to drugs developed by the biopharmaceutical industry.

However, clinical trials led and initiated by Spanish researchers (20%) are low compared to other countries such as France (51%), the Netherlands (44%) or the United Kingdom (35%).

This situation is associated with the lack of public funding of the Spanish science system in oncology. For example, while France allocated 120 million euros during the 2012-2017 period to developing independent clinical trials, supported by programs to receive competitive public funding, Spain invested just 300,000 euros during the same period, which is 40 times less.