Isabel Fuentes, Cristina Villanueva, Rosario Perona, Maria A. Blasco, Mariano Esteban, Margarita del Val, Sergio Recio. /Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO
The CNIO celebrated today World Cancer Research Day with the symposium “Vaccines against COVID-19 and cancer control,” in which participated among others CNIO director Maria A. Blasco and immunologists Mariano Esteban and Margarita del Val
“The development of new vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer should be obligatory in industrialised countries,” urged Mariano Esteban, the immunologist who is developing one of the CSIC’s vaccines against COVID-19
Maria A. Blasco stressed the need for cancer research to focus on other fields as well, such as immunotherapy and the study of the involvement of microbiota in cancer
“In Spain, we need to reinforce the confidence that we have good researchers and healthcare professionals, and we must ensure that society perceives that public-private collaboration is what has kept people from dying. Institutions must be aware that cancer vaccines can be made,” stressed Mariano Esteban, director of the Poxvirus and Vaccines Group at the National Centre for Biotechnology-CNB/CSIC, in a talk he gave today on the occasion of World Cancer Research Day.
Esteban participated in the event organised by the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), a symposium on the subject Vaccines against COVID-19 and cancer control, held at CaixaForum (Madrid), with the support of the La Caixa Foundation. Mariano Esteban’s presentation was followed by a round table discussion with the participation of the virologist himself, CNIO director Maria A. Blasco, head of the Viral Immunology Group at the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CSIC-UAM) Margarita del Val, deputy-director general for Research Evaluation and Promotion at the Institute of Health Carlos III Rosario Perona, and CNIO Friend Sergio Recio. These experts explored how the fight against cancer will benefit from what has been learned during the past year of the pandemic.
“Never before in history has there been a simultaneous global effort to tackle a pandemic, nor have so many human and material resources been involved,” said Esteban. “These efforts are paying off not only through the reduction in the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the population, but also by the development of new vaccination strategies that will have a major impact on the fight against other pathologies such as cancer.”
“The RNA vaccine technology is here to stay. In fact, it is already being used in cancer,” said Mariano Esteban. “But Spain needs to invest more in R&D and Innovation.” For her part, CNIO director and head of the Telomeres and Telomerase Group at the CNIO, Maria A. Blasco, underscored the importance of public-private collaboration in the development of vaccines against COVID-19: “It happens all the time, the public sector is the seed, the origin, because it is the one that funds the most basic research, but private collaboration is needed to make further progress.”
“Through the COVID-19 pandemic we have learned that science is a global system capable of responding to global challenges and that to understand any disease we must first know its origin,” she added. According to Maria A. Blasco, there are other fields on which cancer research should focus, such as immunotherapy and the study of the microbiota and its involvement in cancer.
Rosario Perona, deputy director-general of Research Evaluation and Promotion at the Institute of Health Carlos III, also stressed the importance of increasing investments in R&D and Innovation: “It is important to invest more in research to strengthen research institutes and centres, and to accelerate the evaluation processes for all these vaccines,” she said.
Regarding the development of vaccines against cancer, Margarita del Val, head of the Viral Immunology Group at the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CSIC-UAM) and coordinator of the Global Health Platform, pointed out that there have been vaccines for decades against some types of cancer, “for example, against human papilloma and hepatitis B viruses.”
“We need to develop vaccines against the rest of the infectious agents known to cause cancer. That way, you could treat many people with a single vaccine. Because there must be more tumours caused by a common agent, but not enough research has been done,” Del Val added. “Moreover, childhood vaccines have been reducing the sequelae we had from other infections, and this may be extending our lives.”
For his part, CNIO Friend Sergio Recio commended the efforts of scientists to improve people’s lives and made a call, supported by the rest of the participants, for greater involvement of society in supporting cancer research.
Mortality falls, but the incidence is on the rise
Cancer mortality in Spain has fallen sharply in recent decades. According to the latest report by the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), this trend is attributable to, among others, prevention and early diagnosis campaigns, therapeutic advances and, in men, the decline in smoking.
But cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Spain and worldwide. In fact, its incidence is on the rise due to a number of factors, such as the ageing of the population, exposure to risk factors –e.g. smoking, alcohol, pollution, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle–, and the increase in early detection of some types of cancer, such as colorectal, breast, cervical and prostate cancer.
The SEOM estimates that under normal conditions, more than 276,000 new cases of cancer would have been diagnosed in Spain this year, mainly colon and rectal, prostate, breast, lung and urinary bladder cancers. They assume that the real figures will be lower due to the overloading of the health system as a result of the pandemic, which may lead to a setback in the fight against cancer in the future.