Background: It takes several years on average to translate basic research findings into clinical research and eventually deliver patient benefits. An expert-based excellence assessment can help improve this process by: identifying high performing Comprehensive Cancer Centres; best practices in translational cancer research; improving the quality and efficiency of the translational cancer research process. This can help build networks of excellent Centres by aiding focused partnerships. In this paper we report on a consensus building exercise that was undertaken to construct an excellence assessment framework for translational cancer research in Europe. Methods: We used mixed methods to reach consensus: a systematic review of existing translational research models critically appraised for suitability in performance assessment of Cancer Centres; a survey among European stakeholders (researchers, clinicians, patient representatives and managers) to score a list of potential excellence criteria, a focus group with selected representatives of survey participants to review and rescore the excellence criteria; an expert group meeting to refine the list; an open validation round with stakeholders and a critical review of the emerging framework by an independent body: a committee formed by the European Academy of Cancer Sciences. Results: The resulting excellence assessment framework has 18 criteria categorized in 6 themes. Each criterion has a number of questions/sub-criteria. Stakeholders favoured using qualitative excellence criteria to evaluate the translational research “process” rather than quantitative criteria or judging only the outputs. Examples of criteria include checking if the Centre has mechanisms that can be rated as excellent for: involvement of basic researchers and clinicians in translational research (quality of supervision and incentives provided to clinicians to do a PhD in translational research) and well designed clinical trials based on ground-breaking concepts (innovative patient stratification, substantial fraction of phase I/II trials, investigator-initiated trials). Critically, the framework supports reduced bureaucracy by building on existing European evaluation systems. Conclusions: The excellence framework is the product of an intense stakeholder consensus building exercise. It will be piloted during an expert peer review/site visit of at least three European Comprehensive Cancer Centres. The findings regarding content, governance and implementation can have relevance for other clinical and research fields.