Redefining cancer research priorities in the emerging context of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Published: 22 Nov 2022
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Prof Richard Sullivan - King's College London, London, UK

Prof Richard Sullivan speaks to ecancer about redefining cancer research priorities in the emerging context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging clinical cancer research and care profoundly.

This is especially true for interventional oncology clinical trials in which patient populations may be highly vulnerable to COVID-19 morbidity and mortality and in which treatment strategies may increase risk yet further.

Prof Sullivan discusses the post-COVID research world and defines some of the new research priorities that have been introduced.

We’re also here at the World Cancer Congress talking about the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that has had on cancer services and particularly on cancer research. At the beginning of the pandemic we created a global cancer and COVID taskforce. It was many like-minded individuals from around the world, from Latin America all the way through to the Far East. Most of them were major cancer centre directors, major researchers in this area, who all came together with a common goal – to learn as much as possible about how to care for our patients, what the risk factors were, and also to share best practice in terms of policy and practice going along.

We’ve been here really talking about what the impact has been on the research during COVID-19 and what the impact is now, going forward, on global cancer research. Frankly it’s really rather chilling. We’ve seen many clinical trials have had to stop because, of course, during COVID-19 it was very hard to recruit. We’ve seen a really sizeable depreciation in the amount of money that has been available for cancer research. Increasingly, we’re also seeing high income countries focussing on their own domestic national portfolios, particularly in discovery science and biopharmaceuticals and they’re leaving global health behind. They’re also leaving behind really important areas such as implementation science, health service research and generally supporting capacity and capability in low- and middle-income countries. 

So building on the work from the taskforce and some fantastic qualitative work that has been done through the REPRISE project, what we’ve been doing is actually putting together policy documents and policy information to help re-strategise and re-steer research funding organisations to focus on the needs of global cancer research rather than more parochial national needs.