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Significant improvement for clinical cancer research in Germany

The National Center for Tumor Diseases will be expanded by four sites

© NCT/Marius Stark

The National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) is a long-term cooperation between the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), university medical centers, and other outstanding research partners at various sites in Germany. On February 2, 2023, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has confirmed the NCT expansion with four new sites: Berlin, SouthWest (Tübingen/Stuttgart-Ulm), WERA (Würzburg with partners Erlangen, Regensburg, and Augsburg), and West (Essen/Cologne). With the existing sites in Heidelberg and Dresden, a total of six NCT sites are now cooperating with the DKFZ with the aim of sustainably advancing state-of-the-art clinical cancer research in Germany and thereby improving the treatment outcomes and quality of life of cancer patients.

One goal of the National Decade against Cancer, which was proclaimed by the BMBF in 2019, is to expand the NCT with new sites nationwide. This was preceded by the success of the NCT's two existing pilot sites in Heidelberg and Dresden.

In the fall of 2020, the BMBF selected four new sites for NCT expansion based on the recommendation of an international panel of experts. Subsequently, the DKFZ and the two existing and all new sites developed a comprehensive joint strategic concept and a complementary implementation plan. A large number of leading scientists, oncologists from all disciplines, and patient representatives from all sites were involved in the concept development. A final international review confirmed the joint strategy and its implementation plan. Consequently, the BMBF has given the go-ahead for the establishment of the new sites and the Germany-wide collaboration on the expanded NCT.

The expanded NCT specifically addresses the major current weaknesses of clinical cancer research in the German research landscape. With its focus on innovative clinical trials, the NCT enables new developments from the laboratory to be tested clinically quickly and to the highest standards, thereby making better diagnostic and treatment options available to patients. Special emphasis is placed on personalized oncology, participation of patients as research partners, rapid and fair patient access to advances in cancer research, and the training of future generations of clinical cancer researchers.

The expanded NCT establishes sustainable joint research and cooperation structures, bundles existing national potential and thereby creates synergies that drive the transfer of innovations to patient care, the healthcare system, the economy, and society. The significant investment of the BMBF makes it possible to realize this "one NCT" project.

"The NCT expansion from two to six sites is an outstanding milestone in the National Decade Against Cancer. We are extremely grateful to the BMBF for this generous and long-term investment in the future of cancer research," said Prof. Dr. Michael Baumann, Chairman of the Board of the DKFZ, co-speaker of the NCT Steering Committee and one of the initiators of the NCT expansion. "With the expanded NCT, we are creating an ideal platform to test our own innovations in scientifically driven clinical trials and to compete on an equal footing with the world's leading centers in this field in the future. At the same time, we are giving significantly more patients in Germany access to the advances in cancer research. The NCT is also the first research collaboration in Germany to involve patients as research partners at all levels."

Prof. Dr. Michael Hallek, Director of Clinic I for Internal Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne and co-spokesperson of the NCT Steering Committee, says: "The NCT expansion means a significant boost for cancer research in Germany. Clinical trials are the key driver for the translation of research results from the laboratory to clinical application. The NCT works closely with the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of the university hospitals, which are funded by German Cancer Aid, and builds on their structures. The NCT expansion enables us to establish a powerful clinical trial landscape and, as one large center ("one NCT"), to accelerate translation while increasing our attractiveness for top international talent."

Markus Wartenberg, Spokesman of the NCT National Patient Advisory Board, says: "Especially the non-commercial science-driven clinical trials, as they are to be conducted at the NCT, have great importance for patients. With the future NCT research culture of "Patients as Research Partners", patients are to be involved in the conception and development of trials at an early stage. In this context, the NCT will also provide opportunities for patients interested in research to educate themselves and exchange ideas with "PEAK - the Patient Academy" and an annual national conference."

When completed, the expanded NCT will be financed with a total of around 100 million euros per year by the BMBF and each site's respective host state in a 90:10 ratio. In addition, the funding provided by the host states will enable the construction of a patient-oriented NCT building at each of the four new sites.


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