Abstract Particle therapy (including protons and carbon ions) allows a highly conformal treatment of deep-seated tumours with good accuracy and minimal dose to surrounding tissues, compared to conventional radiotherapy using X-rays. Following impressive results from early phase trials, over the last decades particle therapy in Europe has made considerable progress in terms of new institutes dedicated to charged particle therapy in several countries. Particle therapy is a multidisciplinary subject that involves physicists, biologists, radio-oncologists, engineers and computer scientists. The European Network for Light Ion Hadron Therapy (ENLIGHT) was created in response to the growing needs of the European community to coordinate such efforts. A number of treatment centres are already operational and treating patients across Europe, including two dual ion (protons and carbon ions) centres in Heidelberg (the pioneer in Europe) and Pavia. However, much more research needs to be carried out and beamtime is limited. Hence there is a strong interest from the biomedical research community to have a facility with greater access to relevant beamtime. Such a facility would facilitate research in radiobiology and the development of more accurate techniques of dosimetry and imaging. The Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR) accelerator at CERN presents such an opportunity, and relies partly on CERN's existing infrastructure. The ENLIGHT network, European Commission projects under the ENLIGHT umbrella and the future biomedical facility are discussed.