We’re living in unprecedented times. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives, our social interactions, our work and our health.

And it’s having a huge impact on businesses and charities, including Cancer Research UK and the people affected with cancer we support.

A few weeks ago, we announced a likely drop of 20-25% in our fundraising income over the coming financial year.

And because of this decline in income, we’ve had to make the difficult decision to cut our research spend.

We’re aware this decision will raise a lot of questions for our supporters, those affected by cancer and our research community, the most common of which we’ve answered in this blog post.

Why is Cancer Research UK cutting research funding?

The COVID-19 global pandemic is causing huge financial strain on charities across the world. And Cancer Research UK is no exception – we’re projecting a 20-25% drop in income this financial year. As this means there’ll be less money available to fund research, we’re having to cut our research spend.

As a research charity which funds almost half of the UK’s cancer research, it’s not a decision we made lightly.

We’re working to mitigate the effects of these cuts as much as possible. But we know that by taking action now, we can protect that charity and ensure that our vital life-saving cancer research will continue long after this pandemic.

What research funding has Cancer Research UK cut?

We’ve made cuts to:

  • Our centres and wider infrastructure – funding cut by up to 20%
  • Our institutes – funding cut by 5-10%
  • Our general funding – funding cut by 5-10%

Altogether, this works out at approximately a £44 million cut to research funding.

We’ve also postponed our funding committees (the scientists and doctors who help us decide what research should be funded) until later this year. This means that no new research projects will be funded for at least the first 6 months of this financial year.

While we acknowledge these cuts are hard, we’re trying to be as flexible as possible with them. We’re letting our centres and institutes decide the best way to spend their reduced pool of money and protect what’s most important for them to deliver their research. And we’re offering all scientists who have a Cancer Research UK grant the same flexibility.

All of these measures have been met with understanding and support from the research community.

We’re also protecting funding for both clinical and non-clinical studentships as best we can, to avoid losing an entire generation of cancer researchers. Taking this approach means that we can continue our mission to beat cancer for decades to come.

What impact will these cuts have on progress in beating cancer?

There’s no two ways about it – the cuts we’re making to our research funding are substantial and will certainly have a negative impact on cancer research in the UK and around the world. However, the extent of this impact will be difficult to quantify both now and in the future.

We’re working hard to minimise the negative impact these cuts may have on progress in beating cancer. Because despite all that’s going on, we’re still committed to beating cancer through our world leading research.

Why are we cutting funding instead of dipping into our reserves?

Like any organisation, we have reserves, which allow us to manage financial risk and short-term instability or loss in income.

Our reserve policy requires us to have enough investments and managed cash to cover a minimum of 3 months’ work. It’s there to be used as a temporary, short-term measure to allow us to keep the organisation running. But it’s not sustainable to keep the organisation running solely on our reserves, as it’s a finite pool of money that cannot get to ‘zero’.

As we have no idea how long this global pandemic will last for, we had to look at a more sustainable way to reduce our spending.

We are going to dip into our reserves to keep the organisation going in the short-term, but we’ve also had to make the difficult decision to cut some of our funding, to make sure we don’t fully deplete our reserves, and to ensure is we’re still standing when this global pandemic over.

What are the Government doing to support Cancer Research UK and its work during this time?

The £750 million package announced by the Government on 9th April was a significant first step in supporting the charity sector more broadly. It includes a £360 million central fund to support charities providing essential services.

But right now, it’s not clear whether Cancer Research UK will be able to access this fund to support our work, such as setting up a testing centre at our research institutes or providing much needed information to cancer patients. We’re seeking urgent clarification from the Government on this, as our press release explains.

Some of the clinical research staff we fund are also choosing to go back to work in the NHS full time during this global pandemic, which we fully support. For those staff who have gone back to work in the NHS, we expect their salaries for this period to be covered by the NHS.

We’re also making every effort to save money by using the Government’s job retention scheme where appropriate and freezing all recruitment. With the temporary closure of our 600 high-street shops across the UK, we’ve already furloughed many of our trading staff, and we’re open to placing more staff on the scheme where appropriate.

For our staff who aren’t accessing support from the Government’s job retention scheme, we’re consulting on a move to 80% hours and pay from May, while our executive board has already taken a 20% pay cut.

How is Cancer Research UK supporting cancer patients right now?

In this difficult, unsettling time, we’re working to provide people affected by cancer with the support and information they need.

Our nurses’ helpline, Cancer Chat forum, information pages and coronavirus blog post are keeping abreast of the COVID-19 guidance from Public Health England, National Health Service England and the devolved bodies.

We’re in close communication with the NHS to ensure that urgent cancer care can continue, and that trusts are following NHS guidance on how to support cancer patients during this global pandemic.

Working collaboratively with other cancer charities, we’re also monitoring the impact the pandemic is having on cancer services and patients across the UK, and collating information on where novel approached to treatment are being adopted. And working to maintain a singular voice so that people affected by cancer have clear, consistent information.

Will any cancer research continue during this time?

Because of social distancing guidelines, universities have partially closed. This means that labs have also had to wind down their activities, meaning experiments and bench research into cancer has stopped.

But this doesn’t mean there’s no cancer research happening. Many of our researchers are continuing to work very productively from home.

They’re analysing their data and writing it up for publication, reading the literature to spark new ideas of how to beat cancer and writing research funding grants for these new ideas, pulling together collaborations with other researchers. All so that when ‘normality’ resumes, they can hit the ground running and be prepared to once again tackle the complex group of diseases that is cancer.

And while no new clinical trials are being set-up and recruitment to existing trials has paused, established trials are still running and people with cancer who are on them are being cared for appropriately.

What role are Cancer Research UK-funded scientists playing in the response to COVID-19?

Across the UK, Cancer Research UK-funded researchers are doing their part to help with this global pandemic.

The majority of our clinical scientists and research nurses have been called back to work in hospitals around the country, something we wholeheartedly support.

And some of our researchers are using their expertise to create COVID-19 testing hubs. For example, in just 2 weeks, our chief clinician Professor Charlie Swanton worked to establish a new testing centre at the Crick for NHS staff.

Those with specialist skills, like Dr Alan Parker in Cardiff are applying them to beating this global pandemic. A world-leading expert in viruses, Parker’s lab has spent years looking at how they could potentially be modified to act as cancer treatments. Now, having been granted essential worker status and adhering to social distancing guidelines, he’s using his labs skills, resources and knowledge to try and find a vaccine against COVID-19.

Other Cancer Research UK-funded scientists are playing their part by helping to set up trials for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, while many labs are donating resources – from equipment to chemical reagents – to the fight against COVID-19.

Why are you funding work into COVID-19 when cancer patients need your help?

For over 100 years, we’ve invested in biomedical research to achieve our mission of bringing forward the day when all cancers are cured. In doing so, we’ve developed and supported some of the brightest scientific minds in the world.

But right now, there’s an obstacle in the way of this mission – COVID-19. And in order to get back to the business of beating cancer, we must first beat the coronavirus. That’s why we’re playing our part in this global crisis by supporting our doctors who have gone back to the NHS frontline; our researchers who are using their skills to research this virus; and by making our infrastructure across the UK available to those who need it.

Read more: Today our researchers are helping to beat COVID-19 so that ‘tomorrow’ we can get back to beating cancer.

Funding world-leading cancer research and ensuring that people with cancer get the support they need remains our number one priority. But these unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, measures we’re willing to take in order to ensure that long after COVID-19 has gone, Cancer Research UK remains.

Áine