MSD SVP Deepak Khanna: Taking a Europe-Wide Approach in the Fight Against Cancer


There are over 3.5 million diagnoses and 1.3 million deaths from cancer in the EU each year and cancer is set to become the region’s leading cause of death without a reversal of current trends. Against this backdrop, the European Commission is launching the ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ to reduce the cancer burden on patients, their families and healthcare systems, as well as addressing cancer-related inequalities between and within Member States.


Speaking at the recent 2020 European Cancer Forum in Brussels, Belgium, MSD’s SVP & Regional President Oncology Europe, Middle East, Africa & Canada Deepak Khanna was keen to highlight the progress already made in improving cancer outcomes in Europe, the steps that still need to be taken, and the importance of a Europe-wide cancer plan in that process.

“20 years ago, a lung cancer diagnosis was considered a death sentence,” proclaims Khanna. “Since then, the five-year lung cancer survival rate has increased by five to ten percent globally. Ten years ago, only five out of 100 patients with skin cancer were alive five years after they were diagnosed. Today, every second patient can expect to be live.”


A Long Road Still to Travel

However, Khanna counters that “Despite this progress, cancer remains a big challenge for societies. One in three people in Europe will at some point in their life be diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is set to replace cardiovascular diseases as the number one disease burden and has already done so in countries like France, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The number of new cancer cases has increased by 50 percent since 1995.”

“This challenge cannot be met by a single stakeholder alone. It requires collaboration between governments, payers, medical societies, patient advocacy groups and industry. We also have to consider the funding; currently, between four and seven percent of the healthcare budget goes into cancer care. At the same time, the disease burden of cancer accounts for 20 percent. Do we spend enough? Can we achieve more if we invest more in prevention, screening, treatment and survivorship?”


Taking A Europe-Wide Approach

For Khanna, the rollout of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, scheduled for fourth quarter 2020, is of great significance. “There has already been some amazing work done in cancer – nearly all Member states have cancer plans in place and Germany, for example, has just launched the ‘Decade against cancer’ initiative,” he states. “However, there are issues such as measuring progress in Europe and sharing best practices which no Member state can tackle alone. Therefore, the new cancer plan is a great opportunity for the EU.”

Having a cancer plan across Europe will be a major catalyst in finding the right solutions to ensure patients can have equal access, no matter where they are from

Deepak Khanna

Khanna continues, “There is a lot we can do by working together in Europe not only to get earlier access to innovations but also to identify inefficiencies in the system, starting from how long it takes patients to first be diagnosed, then to be tested, and finally to begin initial treatment.”

“The question is: what we can do across Europe to improve these patient pathways? How can we continue to look at policies that focus on prevention, earlier diagnosis, and faster treatment? Furthermore, this European Cancer Plan will allow us to pinpoint the best practices that certain countries are following which can then be relayed to other member states. This will help us answer the question of why there is such a difference between the timeline for access to innovation between countries. Having a cancer plan across Europe will be a major catalyst in finding the right solutions to ensure patients can have equal access, no matter where they are from.”


Read the full interview with MSD’s Deepak Khanna here

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