As nations across the globe marked World Cancer Day on February 4, the Skolkovo Foundation announced the creation of a new Cancer Centre of Excellence.

The new centre is set to coordinate the work of all the startup companies and partners currently working independently within the foundation’s biomedicine cluster to combat the disease.

“There are many aspects to the fight against cancer: medical, organisational, psychological and legal to name just a few,” says Kristina Khodova, Skolkovo’s project manager for oncology and immunology within the biomedicine cluster, who will head the new united centre.

“Consequently, to fight it successfully, we need people with a range of completely different skills, so we need to unite,” she said.

Kristina Khodova, Skolkovo’s project manager for oncology and immunology, will head the new united centre. Photo:

The main aim of the united centre will be to support the development of new technology for diagnosis and treatment that can be deployed by doctors in the fight against cancer. It will bring together the efforts of more than 60 startups devoted to cancer research within the biomedicine cluster, working on aspects ranging from testing and treatment to the development of medical equipment, as well as international experts and pharmaceutical companies.

“The formation of the Centre of Excellence will enable us to better coordinate the work between developers from different companies and scientific groups,” said Kirill Kaem, a Skolkovo vice president and head of the biomedicine cluster.

“We will also be able to optimise our work with core associations and clinical institutes, both in Russia and abroad,” he said.  

Russia has a higher than average rate of cancer deaths, at 122.55 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, the latest year for which data is available, compared to 105.78 in the U.S., 100.82 in Germany and 96.36 in Australia, according to statistics compiled by the U.K.-based charity Cancer Research.

It is the country’s second most common cause of death after heart disease.

“It’s the curse of our era,” said Khodova. “It’s no secret that it’s the biggest killer in most developed countries and is gradually beginning to catch up [in terms of deadliness] with communicable diseases in developing countries,” she said.

While a lot has been achieved in cancer research around the world, many problems remain unsolved, she said, adding that the centre will also focus on communicating with the general public.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Russia, after heart disease.

“Interest in this issue is constantly rising, as unfortunately, most families have in one way or another encountered cancer,” said Khodova. “People are confused as to what to do if they or someone they know has been diagnosed, and as to what can be done to prevent cancer in future. So this year we want to do projects for the general public. We often get requests from people saying they have heard there is new technology at Skolkovo and asking how they can find out more.”

Last year, the biomedicine cluster – which works closely with the Eurasian Federation of Oncology and the Russian Society of Clinical Oncology – printed a cancer almanac written by leading oncology specialists. Aimed at a general audience and published in both Russian and English, it was an enormous success, said Khodova.

The expert concedes that the centre is a long-term project, as it takes time for technology to appear on the market. In the meantime, she hopes that the centre will help to inform the public of the latest developments being made at Skolkovo in the fight against cancer. But most of all, Khodova hopes that bringing together experts from different spheres of the fight will help make their work more effective.

“We often find that groups of good scientists don’t really understand what’s happening on the market, or vice versa. When people unite, you see different results. Those are the advantages of a centre like this,” she said.