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Let's beat cancer sooner

Professor Nic Jones (right) and our Chief Clinician, Professor Peter Johnson (left)

We asked our chief scientist, Professor Nic Jones, about why he’s so excited about our new research strategy, which we launched today.

Tell us a bit about the thinking behind the strategy

The ultimate goal is to prevent, control and cure all cancers and the only thing that will get us there is research. We know more about cancer than ever before – and that’s why we’ve seen cancer survival rates double in 40 years.

That’s proof that research works but we want to do even more and get things moving even faster.

Today, around half of people diagnosed will survive for more than ten years. But in 20 years time, we want three quarters of all people who hear ‘You’ve got cancer’ to also hear ‘But don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.’

We’re not going to achieve that in the shortest time possible without a game plan.

So we talked to a lot of people – scientists, doctors, and people who’ve dealt with the grim reality of a cancer diagnosis. And we asked: ‘What should we focus on to get there sooner?’ The strategy came out of these conversations.

It sounds ambitious.

It is ambitious – but given the rapid advances in our understanding of cancer, as well as advances in relevant technologies, we are convinced that it is achievable. We have some of the world’s best scientists, doctors and nurses and amazing supporters powering them.

We’ve got fantastic hospitals and universities and we’ve got a single health system – the NHS – which really helps us to ensure that the most promising research developments can be adopted in the clinic.

And at the heart of it all, we’ve got cancer patients who need cures sooner rather than later.

Why do you need a new strategy?

We accomplished a lot with the previous strategy, but the research landscape today is different -technology’s evolved and breakthroughs have been made.

And thanks to all the brilliant people who do things like Race for Life, or remember us in their wills, our income is larger than it’s ever been so it’s a good time for us to evolve our strategy and develop new, bold approaches.

Some parts of the last strategy will be carried forward – we’re going to continue investing in new cancer treatments – not just drugs but also surgery and radiotherapy. And we’ll keep investing in the basic biology of cancer which forms the backbone of all the progress we’ve made so far.

Let’s start with the harder-to-treat cancers – what’s new there?

We want to boost research into lung, pancreatic, oesophageal and brain cancers. Survival rates for these cancers are bleak and they’ve been that way for over a generation. And one of the reasons for that is that there’s not enough research into them. So they’ve seen less progress.

We’ll change that by creating research environments that will attract the brightest scientific minds to work on these difficult cancers. And once we’ve got the critical mass you need, we’ll get people rubbing shoulders, swapping ideas and amazing things will start to happen

In lung cancer, we’ve already started by launching two of the world’s most innovative and ambitious projects. But they’re just the beginning – we’ll be setting up a hub for the most exciting lung cancer research around.

I think we’re going to be able to make a huge dent in these horrible diseases.

What really excites you about this strategy?

I think early diagnosis has huge potential so I’m thrilled to see it featured so prominently.

Far too many people die because they’ve been diagnosed late, and that’s a tragedy because we can cure many cancers if they’re spotted at the earliest stages. But in research, we often focus on later stages of the disease.

We can change the odds for countless people by shifting the balance towards early disease and discovering the tell-tale signs of early cancers which could be used to develop simple and reliable diagnostic tests.

And then once people are diagnosed, we want doctors to be able to match them to the right drug or drugs at the right time. Imagine knowing with certainty that your treatment will work, and that your cancer will never come back – it’s the stuff of dreams at the moment, but we could get there with research.

40 years of progress and our ambitious goal for the future

40 years of progress and our ambitious goal for the future

How are you going to make this all happen?

By getting the best scientists in the world on board – we’re not interested in anyone else.

Great research comes from great researchers and we’ll support them at all stages of their careers – from fledgling PhD student right through to professor.

We’re also introducing new funding schemes which will allow us to do research in completely new ways – for example by adding fresh talent from physics, mathematics, engineering and chemists to this creative mix.

This cross-fertilisation could help answer some of the really big questions in cancer research.

How is this strategy going to help people who have cancer now?

We want to be realistic – it’s not going to give us cures overnight – things just don’t happen that way.

But we’re working towards a future where cancer doesn’t rip families apart or turn lives upside down and I think this strategy will get us there sooner. It’s a big step towards putting us all out of jobs – wouldn’t that be amazing?

  • Watch how our strategy will help us beat cancer sooner
  • Read more about our new strategy here.

Interview conducted by Safia Danovi

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Baljit Chhina June 17, 2014

My 68 year old sister lives in New Zealand has developed Myeloma 5 years ago. She was treated successfully and all cleared until December 2013. Even though the cancer came back and she is still fighting but thanks to Cancer research that gave us a hope. I have set up a direct Debit to play Cancer Research monthly. Great Job!!

MWC May 16, 2014

My wife is 35 and we have two small children. She had an ultrasound a week ago and is awaiting the results. I’m terrified, truly sick with worry, that she has ovarian cancer. Most cases are picked up at Stage III and Stage IV and the survival rates are woeful, and the UK is pretty much the worst in Europe. There needs to be far more done to get at this disease earlier. And more needs to be done to find a way to switch if off in the first place. I don’t know what the future holds for my family but the thought of losing my best friend and my boys of losing their mum makes me shake with fear.

Dr Danny Connaughton May 10, 2014

I strongly echo all comments thus far that CRUK is doing a great job. The strategy to do even better is fantastic (I think that coordination of all the clever scientists from different disciplines will be key but trust that this will be covered). Go get it!

Katrina ferguson May 10, 2014

I think you are all doing brilliantly, my son has just finished his exams at the Glasgow university and his subject: immunology, he wants to get into cancer research. He is just waiting now for his exam results. His nana had lung cancer and they removed the bottom lobe of her left lung and hopefully after her last check up this year she will be in remission. She also has rheumatoid arthritis, which he is quite interested in. He has climbed Ben Nevis twice now and he said the third time he does it, it will be for cancer research charity. He has great admiration for yourselves and all that you are achieving. My mum and myself have direct debits set up to pay cancer research monthly. Thank you for all your hard work and effort you all put in as without it my mum may not be alive today.

Mrs Jean Bayliss May 5, 2014

I have always felt that whilst the word ‘cancer’ is widely known and feared, most people, myself included, are unaware of the actual symptoms. Obviously early recognition of this horrible disease is paramount and I salute the efforts of Cancer Research in trying to bring about earlier diagnosis and treatment. Thanks to Cancer Research and my wonderful Professor Peter Johnson and his amazing team, I am alive and well today. I was diagnosed with large B cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in the latter part of 2006. After major surgery, I was told I was riddled with cancer and had very little hope of survival. However when I was transferred to Oncology, I was fortunate enough to take part in Professor Johnson’s R-CHOP trial and the rest, as they say, is history. I will always be eternally grateful to my Prof and since then I have had the privilege of being involved in fundraising projects with Cancer Research UK which has helped all the dedicated work being taken forward and more lives being saved.

Caroline May 4, 2014

Early detection makes such a difference. I have fully recovered from early stage breast cancer because of screening tests. I and several members of my extended family carry a defective BRCA gene, but the vast majority of my family have not been so lucky. A screening test for lung, oesophageal and pancreatic cancers would make a huge impact on the next generation of my family and undoubtedly save countless others who develop these ruthless cancers. I’m very glad to see CRUK are making these cancers a research priority.

David Watson May 3, 2014

It is an encouragement to know that, though we go through pain there is a fight going on the save others from that same pain. If we keep looking for the root of problems then we can find a cure. just keep looking please.

zyta May 3, 2014

someone who is devoted to save lives is a hero above all .. GOD BLESS PROFESSOR NIC JONES AND PETER JOHNSON INCLUDING EVERYONE INVOLVED IN THIS BATTLE AGAINST THIS DEADLY DISEASE YOU ARE MY HEROES AND I TRULY LOVE YOU. i will contribute by running in JULY 6 WHICH IS MY BIRTHDAY GOD BLESS YOU IN JESUS NAME AMEN !!!!

Sam May 2, 2014

My mum was diagnosed with Breast cancer 9 years ago and has since had a double mastectomy. She consequently had chemo and radiotherapy. For five years she was cancer free to then be diagnosed with cancer in her bones, lesions on her organs. She always said she would never have treatment again but then was told about a chemo trial, in the spirit of who she is she agreed to the trial to help save others in the future. This has kind of worked for her all her tumours shrank but the big blow came when two years ago mum was told she had a brain tumour, again in her fighting spirit she had radiotherapy and things looked okish, but then 6 months ago she went completely blind, still she carried on with the trial, which has been successful in stopping the tumours growing. She has been to positive and strong, with a great team around her but 7weeks ago she seems to have given up. I think so many of us see our loved ones go through so much with cancer, all we can wish for is continuing research to stop others going through what we do.

Angela May 2, 2014

I lost my Mum to breast cancer but she lived for 5 and a half years from diagnosis and we always felt there was hope and more treatments to try. When my daughter was diagnosed with stomach cancer it was a completely different story. There was never any good news and she died just over a year from diagnosis and at 27 years of age. Please put more research into the more difficult cancers and research ways of making it easier to test for stomach and similar cancers. Despite our family story I live with the hope that we will beat cancer, please please let’s all make this happen.

Val Alderson May 2, 2014

Lung cancer killed my Mum. My husband’s colon cancer was treated successfully by surgery 12 years ago. Now my friend is dying of inoperable colon cancer, I know we all have to die of something, but cancer is not a good ending. Please help all of us. Thank you

Ann Rigg May 2, 2014

I agree that earlier detection should help in prevention of long treatment plans.

Ann Potts May 2, 2014

Apparently we do not have the “Cancer” gene but as I and my younger daughter are both survivors due, we believe, to our superb GP in spotting our cancers early and acting immediately; whereas both my brothers very sadly did not have such wonderful GPs and neither are any longer with us. One to Oesophageal and one to bowel/lung so I do whole heartedly agree that research is constantly needed but also more training for the family doctors in what to look out for/check up on and more Cancer hospitals to send their patients to for earlier checkouts

simon coates May 2, 2014

Brilliant long term strategy – you,ve done so much already and all power to you. Long may it continue. I do think that GP’s (although they are under so much pressure) do need to be more aware of he various symptoms in order to get earlier diagnosis, and that blood testing should be a routine part of treatment for persistent patient attendees ??? Also, blood test results need to be speedier (I spend 50% of time in Cyprus – blood test in the morning – results 3 hours later !!!!

Jash May 2, 2014

Let us all fight together and achieve our target

Henry Scowcroft May 2, 2014

Dr Mills – We agree prevention’s absolutely better than cure – that’s why our research strategy recognises the huge potential of research into the early diagnosis and prevention of cancer to save lives. As you rightly point out, both fields have been funded at relatively low levels compared to other areas of research. Over the next few years, we expect our annual investment in all types of research to increase substantially, giving us the opportunity to increase our funding in both existing and new areas of cancer research. Specifically, we’re aiming to invest an extra £20 million a year into early diagnosis research by 2019. However, rather than allocate ‘pots’ of funds to specific avenues of research, we will continue to fund the best science as judged by experts in the field. We believe that this is the most effective way to ensure that we fund high quality research that will make the biggest difference for people with cancer in the UK. On top of this, we will continue campaigning to make sure the fruits of research are put into practice by Government – particularly where this helps prevent cancer, as with our long-standing role in tobacco control advocacy.

DW May 2, 2014

How refreshing to see a charity willing to stand up and say ‘cure cancers’. Most others dance around the issue, unwilling to take such a stance. Well done CRUK!

14277302 May 2, 2014

I have known a few people who have died from cancer and have seen that it can be devastating and expensive, will the new treatment be available to people who are poor and to people who are rich?

Marie-France Lyell May 2, 2014

How refreshing to read the passion for this work. I am a survivor of 10 years and owe my life to fantastic surgery and monitoring from those who looked after me.

castello2 April 29, 2014

Where do you stand on e-cigs?

Dr Mills April 29, 2014

CRUK’s strategy is to focus on four key areas – working to help prevent cancer, diagnose it earlier, develop new treatments and optimise current treatments.

Is each area going to receive the same level of funding, i.e. 25% of the pot?

Previously, the amount spent on prevention and detection has been a fraction of the amount spent on research into treatment. While this has obviously been very successful (over 50% now survive more than 10 years – which is great news), most of us would prefer not to get cancer in the first place.