Pedro Lara: «Spain does not understand the importance of basic research against cancer»

Oncologist Pedro Lara, next to a linear accelerator for radiosurgery. / JUAN CARLOS ALONSO

The director of the Canary Islands Cancer Research Institute calls for the involvement of the State in the development of this type of study

Carmen Delia Aranda

Basic research is the poor sister of
fight against cancer. These types of studies, without direct application to treatments and patients, are, however, the basis for developing clinical research that helps improve the approach to the disease, explains the director of the Canary Islands Cancer Research Institute, Pedro Lara .

basic investigation It improves in Spain very slowly but it does not reach the rhythm of other European countries. These studies are the essential prelude to conducting clinical research focused on curing patients”, says the oncologist, coinciding with World Cancer Research Day, which is celebrated today.

"Clinical research is the most common and deals largely with the development of new drugs," he says. For this reason, it also receives more funding from the pharmaceutical industry. However, Lara emphasizes that “we cannot devise drugs if we do not have a good understanding of the molecule we want to act on. Clinical research brings more results, is well regarded and, in general, adequately financed", emphasizes Lara, who asks for a
Greater effort on the part of the public health system to "support basic research and independent clinical research that does not evaluate a specific drug, but other types of treatments without a clear economic focus."

brain drain

Another obstacle that cancer research encounters in Spain is the
precariousness researchers suffer. “They need continued support, not temporary. Normally, researchers are paid for the duration of their research project. Faced with the risk of having to renew their project, they decide to go to other countries where they have greater job stability. This can limit the growth of quality basic and translational research”, emphasizes the doctor. "The
great challenge for research in Spain is find a formula to minimize the precariousness of researchers”, he points out.

Despite these difficulties, cancer research has advanced in recent years and can be seen in the improvement of the quality of life of patients.

new treatments

"A very relevant advance has been the advent and generalization of a therapeutic weapon as important as the
immunotherapy», explains the oncologist about these treatments capable of reinvigorating the immune system to deal with the tumor. “It has been a fundamental change in the control of several of the most difficult tumors such as lung cancer and melanoma,” he says.

In the case of
metastatic melanomawith immunotherapy has been achieved
a response rate of more than 50%, when before this treatment only 5% of patients improved. "The metastatic patient is not going to be cured, but treatments such as immunotherapy can allow the disease to become chronic," says the oncologist enthusiastically.

This therapy is being applied to different types of tumors; bladder, digestive or so-called head and neck, which affect different areas such as the nose, pharynx, mouth or tongue.

This is not the only advance that cancer patients have appreciated. In recent years, research has made it possible to develop
proton therapya proton radiation treatment given to
tumors located in complex siteslike the brain, and that opens up a hopeful future for the
child cancer. "We have witnessed the donation by the Amancio Ortega Foundation of ten proton therapy equipment to the Spanish public health system, one of which will be in the Canary Islands," announces Lara.

The Canary Islands are taking part in cancer research. “We have some very relevant teams, especially in Gran Canaria, collaborating in clinical trials on immunotherapy and its combination with radiotherapy. This Canarian team has confirmed that the effect of immunotherapy is further enhanced by radiotherapy », he indicates.

12,002 people were diagnosed with cancer in the Canary Islands in 2021; 6,062 of them in Las Palmas and 5,941 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, according to data from the Spanish Association against Cancer in the Canary Islands. In the archipelago, during the past year, 4,590 people died from the disease.