Despite many advances in recent decades, cancer continues to be a major health challenge in Germany, Europe and worldwide. In Germany alone, half a million citizens are newly diagnosed with cancer every year. The main causes are growing and aging societies, lifestyles and environmental factors.
At the same time, cancer research is constantly producing new findings on how to better diagnose and treat cancer. In order for patients to benefit from this at an early stage, close networking between research and care is necessary. As part of the National Decade against Cancer, which was proclaimed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) at the beginning of 2019, further locations of the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) are to be established in Germany so that patients have access to innovative treatment approaches throughout the country.
The NCT is supported by the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the respective university medicine and other outstanding research partners at various locations in Germany. Each NCT site will be linked to all competencies and infrastructures of the DKFZ in Heidelberg and vice versa. The same applies to the integration with the local Comprehensive Cancer Centers, CCC (Oncological Centers of Excellence) and University Medicine. This cooperative approach will make it possible to tap the research potential in Germany even further.
At the NCT, cutting-edge research and innovative cancer therapy are closely networked so that patients have early access to promising treatment approaches. In this way, new findings from the laboratory quickly reach the bedside and, conversely, new knowledge from medical care flows back into research. Heidelberg has been the first location of the NCT since 2004, Dresden the second location since 2015.
As part of the National Decade against Cancer, the BMBF is funding the expansion of up to four additional NCT sites in Germany. To participate in the selection process, the sites had to demonstrate prior experience as a multidisciplinary center for translational oncology and excellence in research and care. The BMBF announced the decision on the four potential site candidates in 2020. The ministry followed the recommendation of an international panel of experts. In the subsequent strategy phase, a concept and implementation plan for the expanded NCT were drawn up by all stakeholders. This process ended in early 2023 with the final announcement by the BMBF of the new NCT sites - Berlin, SouthWest (Tübingen/Stuttgart-Ulm), WERA (Würzburg with partners Erlangen, Regensburg and Augsburg) and West (Cologne/Essen).
Image Film: One NCT (in German)
The NCT is the first research institution in Germany to introduce the participation of patients in cancer research at all levels. Patient representatives were already involved in the working groups during the concept phase. National and local patient advisory boards firmly anchor the participation of patients in the structure of the NCT.
At each of the six NCT sites, an academic platform for clinical research of international standing is established, jointly supported by the DKFZ and the participating university medical centers. This will create highly specialized clinical trial centers that will provide patients with rapid and fair access to innovative therapies.
The focus of the expanded NCT is on non-commercial science-driven clinical trials (Investigator Initiated Trials, IITs). This is also intended to close the gap that exists in Germany between preclinical research and late-stage clinical trials.