Setting an ambitious goal of "a world free from cancer by 2050", an initiative has been launched in the USA which calls for more patient-centered innovation and an appreciation of the economic benefits new drugs bring.

The Value of Medical Innovation (VOI) is a partnership of patients, researchers, advocacy groups and innovators led by the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI). It has set out a six-point plan which aims  to speed innovation by making cancer treatments "predictive, personalised, preventive and participatory".

These include putting patients 'in charge of cancer research' by using online communities to test treatments, design studies and determine better ways to tackle their illness. The VOI also calls for replacing "one-size-fits-all research with personalised cancer studies", noting that it took nearly $1 billion and 10 years for the Human Genome Project to develop a detailed genetic map. Now, genomes can be sequenced in a few hours for under $500.

The initiative also calls for drastically cutting the time it takes to develop new cancer medicines to as little as two years, instead of the usual eight-12. "Most of the time and effort is spent on testing medicines in people that we know won't deliver a therapeutic benefit", it says, "and a focus on the patient and his or her genetic signature would help identify better therapies sooner".

The VOI also wants to see legislation in the USA to require health plans to pay for personalised medicines as "nearly half of all cancer patients are forced to choose between a treatment that could save their lives or the one that's covered by their plan".

Speaking at the launch of the initiative in Chicago this week, Scott Gottlieb, now at the American Enterprise Institute and a former deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs at the US Food and Drug Administration, said "the time for personalised medicine has come". The biggest challenge now is not scientific, he argued, but rather issues of regulation and cost.

Robert Goldberg, CMPI vice president and VOI founder, said that "business as usual won't cut it," claiming that "insurance companies, hospitals, drug companies and even the FDA are entrenched in a system that pays them for research and treatment focused on the cancer, not the patient". He added that "cancer patients living longer, better lives has added $4.7 trillion to our economy. That's an incredible return for what we've invested".

Since 1990, VOI argues that new cancer medicines have doubled the number of  survivors from six million to 13 million, resulting in nearly 49 million additional life-years gained by treatment advances. Every $1 spent on new drugs reduces spending on hospitals and doctors by $7 and all told, "innovative treatments account for only about 1% of total healthcare spending".

Dr Goldberg concluded by saying "many people believe that in the war on cancer we get too little benefit for too much money. We have 49 million reasons to prove them wrong".