'Incurable' cancers receive more investment in £1.5 billion science push
Leading charity Cancer Research UK has launched an ambitious five-year plan which will see it spend around £300 million a year on core areas of science to reduce cancer deaths – including greater investment in those areas where survival rates remain poor.
The charity will continue to support areas of work in which it has been world-leading for decades – the highest quality laboratory and population-based research programmes to improve our understanding of all cancers – and innovative translational and clinical research to drive scientific discoveries towards improving survival.
In the next five years, improvements in early detection and screening will be specifically targeted, enabling doctors to diagnose cancer earlier when it has a better chance of being successfully treated.
Cancer Research UK will establish up to 20 ‘Centres of excellence’ across the UK – linking research activities with patient care, public engagement and prevention initiatives. Each centre will develop a distinct research strategy and will be encouraged to develop key areas of focus in which it will be world-class. Most of these Centres will be launched in 2009.
The charity will also continue to deliver information to the public about cancer prevention, detection and treatment - and will maintain its influence to drive public policy change, where this will help improve survival.
Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Harpal Kumar, said: “Huge progress has been made in beating cancer over the past thirty years, both through reducing the number of people getting cancer in the first place and through doubling survival. This has had a significant impact on reducing the number of cancer deaths – and Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of this. But progress has been faster in some areas than others. This strategy focuses our attention on those areas which will have the greatest impact on reducing cancer deaths in the future and on achieving our goals.”
Cancer Research UK is, and will remain, the largest funder of research into most cancers in the UK – including breast, prostate, lung, bowel and children’s cancers. Survival rates have improved for almost all of the common cancers and in many cancer types the progress has been dramatic. Breast cancer now has a twenty year survival rate of nearly 70 per cent. Testicular cancer, melanoma and Hodgkin’s disease now all have ten year survival rates of over 80 per cent. But only around five per cent* of those with pancreatic, oesophageal or lung cancer will survive for this long.
Cancer Research UK already carries out significant research in these fields, but prognosis remains poor. The charity has started to promote increased research activity in these cancers by seeking advice from leading experts from across the world to highlight which areas would benefit most from Cancer Research UK’s investment. The outcomes of these discussions will form the basis of major new initiatives to tackle both pancreatic and oesophageal cancer – and a commitment to increase further our funding in lung cancer research – the UK’s biggest cancer killer.
Harpal Kumar said: “In these three cancers, there has been a degree of nihilism and even a defeatist attitude around the world, which has led to limited research activity. However, these are top ten cancers in terms of mortality in the UK and progress can and is being made. It is our responsibility to do more.”
In addition, Cancer Research UK has pledged to boost research investment in surgery and radiotherapy – which along with chemotherapy are the most important approaches to cancer treatment. Research into new radiotherapy and surgical techniques has declined in recent years. Over the next five years, Cancer Research UK will take steps to correct this by making these disciplines a key focus for the Cancer Research UK Centres.
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Cancer treatment is increasingly tailored to the individual patient. Through our investments in imaging and biomarker research we will accelerate this process, to maximise the chance of success with an individual patient’s treatment and minimise the wasted time, side effects and costs that result from inappropriate treatment. Tailoring treatment in this way presents us with enormous opportunities as well as challenges. This ambitious research strategy puts us in a position to take on these tougher scientific challenges.”
Cancer Research UK’s plans also place further emphasis on quality and impact. Professor Johnson continued: “Through our partnerships with the NHS, the UK already leads the world in cancer clinical trials. This isn’t just about having more patients take part in trials than any other country, but also about making sure those trials really lead to changes in the way cancer medicine is practiced, both here and across the world. Our work over the years has helped set the standard for how patients with breast, bowel, ovarian and other cancers are now treated. This is because, across the entire range of our research, we carefully test all the ideas that researchers put forward - to ensure that the work we fund really is at the international forefront and is not duplicating work being done elsewhere. It is one thing to have interesting research ideas, but it’s vital to make sure that work we support will really make an impact in practice.”
In order to deliver on the strategy, the charity will continue to invest in developing world-class cancer researchers for the future and in attracting to the UK the very best scientific minds from around the world.
Harpal Kumar added: “Over the years, Cancer Research UK has been involved in the training of almost all of the medical oncologists now practising in the UK. We will build on our achievements and promote innovative and interdisciplinary research across all of our research activities and institutes – by providing the right environment for research, and the right people to do it.
“This bold five year strategy aims to reduce the number of people dying from cancer – particularly those who suffer from some of the hardest forms of the disease to treat successfully – lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers.
“Focusing our efforts in this way will ensure that Cancer Research UK has the infrastructure in place to take the promising scientific discoveries of recent years into clinical practice to benefit the public.”
Harpal Kumar concluded: “We will make the greatest impact in the fight against cancer by working in partnership with other research organisations and the government of the day. But it’s only through the generosity of our supporters that we will be able to fund this work – we receive virtually no funding from Government. Now, more than ever, we need people to support us in our vision to beat cancer.”