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ERA-NET: Aligning national/regional translational cancer research programmes and activities

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TRANSCAN-2 (ERA-NET: Aligning national/regional translational cancer research programmes and activities)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2015-12-31

Cancer is among the leading causes of death and represents a significant burden of disease worldwide. In Europe it is the most important cause of morbidity and death after cardiovascular diseases, with 3 million new cases and 1,7 million deaths each year (Globocan 2012, Cancer is a challenge for the public health and it contributes to the growth of medical expenditures as well. Incidence and mortality of malignancies must be reduced and the quality of life of cancer patients increased, to tackle the complexity of these issues the key area of translational cancer research, with a rapid and effective bidirectional transfer of relevant findings between bench and bedside, would play a pivotal role. However the research efforts in the field should be harmonised and integrated so as to profit from coordination at transnational level.
The ERA-NET TRANSCAN-2 involves 28 partners and aims at linking translational cancer research funding programmes in 15 Member States, 3 Associated Countries, and a third country. TRANSCAN-2 is in continuity with the preceding ERA-NET TRANSCAN, the partnership is experienced and some of the partners have already cooperated over the past years in the successful implementation of 3 Joint Transnational Calls (JTC). The encouragement of high quality research through competitive funding allows an efficient use of the dedicated national resources and the coordination of the financial management of multinational research projects aims at the harmonisation of administrative procedures.
The main objectives of the project, structured in 9 Work Packages, are:
• within the first year of the project, to prepare, launch and implement a JTC (JTC 2014) cofunded by the European Commission (EC)
• to launch 3 additional calls in the successive years on translational cancer research topics to be further defined
• to monitor the progress of the funded research projects and analyse the results to assess the performance
• to promote the participation of all partners in the JTCs
• to identify scientific priority topics in translational cancer research, through exchanges with the scientific community, with relevant projects and stakeholders in the EU and world-wide
• to establish a communication, dissemination and networking strategy
"In the first year of activity the main goal achieved was to launch and implement the JTC 2014 co-funded by the EC. The call was launched on 15 January 2015 on ""Translational research on human tumour heterogeneity to overcome recurrence and resistance to therapy"", with the wide participation of 25 funding organisations and an earmarked budget of 17.8 Mio€. The submitted eligible proposals were 117, after a fair and transparent two-step evaluation process, 16 excellence projects, involving 85 research groups, were selected for funding. The objectives successfully reached were: i) the numerous involved funding organisations have agreed on funding procedures complying with the rules established by the EC; ii) the interest of the scientific community was met as witnessed by the large number of submitted pre-proposals; iii) the call schedule was fully respected, without any delay; iv) the call management process, with particular regard to the scientific assessment of proposals, has been fair and transparent, as reported by the EC observer appointed for the call.
During the first year also a second call (JTC 2015) on the topic “Immunology and immunotherapy of cancer: strengthening the translational aspects” was prepared and launched on 4 December 2015. The funding organisations participating in the call are 15, with an earmarked budget of about 9 Mio€.
The TRANSCAN-2 coordination group has ensured a proper technical and administrative management of the whole project as well as the management and consolidation of the consortium of funding organisations participating in the co-funded call. In collaboration with the hosting institutions, two complex meetings were organised both for the whole network and for the JTC funders, comprising the two evaluation meetings of the first co-funded call.
A Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), composed of 10 eminent scientist with expertise in translational cancer research, was established. They contribute to the definition of the topic and aims of the JTCs to be prepared. Exchanges and discussions with the SAB members took place at the first joint SAB-NSC meeting and in a teleconference.
A strategy on interaction with relevant projects and stakeholders is under discussion, it aims to identify EU initiatives and to develop contacts with the most relevant ones and provide the network with updated information. There have been preliminary exchanges with funding organisations interested in the program and in joining the network. The identification of scientific priority topics is essential for the calls to be launched under TRANSCAN-2. The methodology for their definition is mainly based on organizing more frequent and systematic contacts with relevant scientific stakeholders to identify new emerging needs in cancer research. To this aim many inputs have been collected from research communities, cancer experts, policy makers and from the funding organisations partners, consequently structured discussions were prepared for the SAB-NSC joint meeting. In this context, the definition of the topic was successfully completed for the JTC 2015, as mentioned above.
The project performance and its monitoring are internally evaluated by means of some indicators. The JTCs results, which are pointers of TRANSCAN-2 success, are being analysed. In parallel, the partners’ satisfaction with respect to internal procedures and results have been assessed through a survey disseminated among all partners, whose outputs are under examination. Some measures were agreed and applied for consolidating the network and improving the partner's success in JTCs, for example an encouragement to include principal investigators from some under-represented countries in the research consortia.
A communication and dissemination strategy is being developed. The organisation of scientific symposia, involving the coordinators of the projects funded under the JTCs as well as the interested programme owners/managers and representatives of the national and international top-notch scientific community working in the field of cancer research, has been outlined and discussed; the first symposium is in preparation and planned for the end of the year.

The ultimate goal and expected outcome of this programme is to contribute to the building of a more effective European Research Area (ERA). As for this first reporting period, the coordinated effort of participant funding organisations to agree on procedures and their financial commitment, together with the co-funding from the EC, have allowed the funding of 16 outstanding research projects by the access to a larger pool of resources. In fact through competition for funds and high quality peer review evaluation, scientific excellence, but also the achievement of the required critical mass, have been supported.
The TRANSCAN-2 network is motivated to strengthen the cooperation in the project activities, with particular regard to the implementation of additional JTCs through the improvement of the coordinated action.