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Horizon 2020

Portal also asked Meheus what role the EU R&I

framework programme could play in

progressing the use of non-mainstream

treatments. In response, she advocated a call

focusing on drug repurposing: “When you make

use of existing drugs, you do not have the

quality issues that you would otherwise have

for supplements and non-pharmaceutical

interventions; you have the guarantee of a

product and quality of the drug.

“Yet there is an important issue that has to be

tackled at the European level. If you use a

combination of existing drugs that are off-

patent, following a positive result in a clinical

trial, it is not currently possible to register your

drug combination for cancer treatment without

the involvement of pharma companies that

provide or produce the original drugs. There

needs to be a change in the legislation.”

Meheus added that there should also only be

one body setting the guidelines as to whether

a “combination of different drugs” is suitably

effective for cancer treatment. If trials prove

to be correct, “the companies should be

obliged to co-operate for the registration of

the cancer treatment”.

The potential use of non-mainstream

treatments, and in particular repurposed drugs,

is considerable. Yet with barriers to using such

drugs and difficulties in undertaking clinical

trials of non-pharmaceutical treatments, action

must be taken by the European Commission,

including through Horizon 2020, to overcome

the obstacles to beneficial innovation.


ioneering research is being undertaken in Europe to expand

the use of non-mainstream treatments to tackle cancer,

which means that non-mainstream treatments have to

become mainstream treatments. Therapies under investigation

include radiotherapy, mind-body interventions, supplements and

off-label use of registered non-cancer drugs.

To find out more about the non-mainstream treatments available, Portal

spoke to Lydie Meheus, managing director of the Belgian-based

Anticancer Fund, who drew attention to the importance of ‘drug

repurposing’. She outlined how a “combination of existing drugs can be

used to treat cancer” but said there are currently barriers to further

development, particularly for registration. Meheus explained that there

are “many interesting treatments to investigate, but they need additional

evidence from proper clinical investigation.

“For example, we are running a clinical trial on Curcumin, yet this is not

a substance that you can do a recognised clinical trial with for therapeutic

outcome; you need something much more defined and that has a

standardised form and quality.

“Even for non-pharmaceutical interventions there are issues. We support

a trial on mindfulness, and whilst treatment is given by a professional

trainer, it is not straightforward to set up a proper clinical trial. We need

many in-depth evaluations to find the best way to standardise those non-

mainstream treatments before evaluation can begin.”

Meheus continued by explaining two other key considerations in

developing non-mainstream treatments: “All non-mainstream treatments

should be properly investigated and should always be compared to the

standard of care so they can be proven to be better than what is currently

available. In addition, especially for supplements and plant extracts, there

should also be a guarantee of quality.”

Supranational support

The EU can play a role in encouraging the uptake and use of non-

mainstream treatments, but the greatest barrier at present is the ability

to undertake rigorous clinical trials. Meheus explained: “We need to open

up the possibility of performing decent clinical trials for this type of

product because in the current Clinical Trials Directive, you can only use

good manufacturing practices (GMP) material, but none of the producers

of supplements are willing to invest in GMP production, because this is

a very costly ‘upgrade’.

“You cannot use a supplement as a monotherapy in clinical trials, as that

is in contradiction to the regulations of clinical trials. There should be a

way of controlling the quality of supplements so that they can be

acceptable to all the regulators, allowing the performance of proper

clinical trials that are not possible today.”

A new treatment

With advances in non-mainstream approaches to treat cancer,


finds out

more by speaking to the Anticancer Fund’s

Lydie Meheus


Lydie Meheus

Anticancer Fund



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H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L

C A N C E R & C A R D I O V A S C U L A R D I S E A S E

Lydie Meheus