They’re everywhere – the words “economic downturn”, “current financial climate”, or even the dreaded “recession”. It’s impossible to ignore the news, especially as a charity dependent on public donations. But set against this backdrop, the need for our work is greater than ever.

Around 289,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK – that’s one every two minutes – and rates are increasing. The good news is that the death rate from cancer is falling year on year, but more than 150,000 people still lose their lives to the disease every year.

Today we’re announcing our research strategy for the next five years, and it’s a great opportunity to focus on the areas where we can make a really big impact and save lives. You can read the full strategy document on our website, but here’s a potted version.

Investing in “incurable” cancers
Thanks to research, we’ve seen impressive leaps in survival rates for many types of cancer, including breast, testicular and childhood cancers. But there are some types that seem almost “incurable”, given the low survival figures.

Three of these are lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer, together accounting for more than 53,000 cases of cancer every year in the UK, and more than 48,000 deaths.

By focusing on these cancers through improved prevention, early detection, and developing more effective treatments, we could make a significant impact on these numbers. So we’ll be starting major new initiatives aimed at tackling these issues. And the bottom line is that many more lives could be saved.

Centres of excellence
A major part of our strategy is the establishment of up to 20 ‘Centres of excellence’ across the UK, which will link research to patient care and cancer prevention. There will also be a hefty chunk of public engagement work, encouraging local people to find out more about our work in their area and get involved.

Each centre will have its own strategy, focusing on the key areas of expertise that are already there, such as research into a specific cancer type. Most of the centres will be launched in 2009, so watch this space.

Not just chemotherapy
Treating cancer effectively isn’t just about drugs. Surgery and radiotherapy play crucial roles, but research in these areas has declined in recent years. We’ll be investing in all three areas – radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery – to make sure that patients can get the best treatment for their disease.

As a step in the right direction, we recently saw the new Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology open in Oxford.

Early detection
As we’ve already discussed on the blog, one area that could make a huge impact on survival rates is early detection. We will be stepping up our research into early diagnosis and screening, ensuring that cancer is caught earlier, when it has a better chance of being successfully treated.

And, of course, we’ll be working in partnership with others to make sure that NAEDI, the National Awareness and Early Detection Initiative, is a success.

And all the other stuff…
Of course, these aren’t the only areas we’ll be working on. As always, we’ll continue to provide high-quality information for people affected by cancer, and lobby for policy change to improve cancer services.

Another area of growth is likely to be imaging and biomarker research, which will help doctors to tailor therapy to treat an individual’s cancer most effectively. We’ll continue to support clinical trials and population-based research. And we’ll continue to invest heavily in fundamental laboratory science, which will lead to the cancer treatments of the future.

What’s the cost?
Research is not cheap. Last year alone we spent £333 million on our research, and a further £11 million on our information and advocacy work. Over the coming five years we hope to plough around £300 million a year into our research. And given the current economic climate, we have our fingers crossed that our supporters will donate the funds we need to do this vital work.

We’ve already made a significant impact on the treatment of cancer, saving thousands upon thousands of lives. But we need to do so much more. Our plans are ambitious, not to mention costly, and we are dependent on public generosity. But through our research, and with the help of our partners, we believe that together we will beat cancer.

Click on the player below to hear Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, sharing his views on the strategy.

Link to download (5m18s, 2.5Mb)

Click on the player below to hear Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Clinician, talking about what it means for cancer patients and doctors.

Link to download (3min30s, 1.6Mb)


You can also read a detailed Research Strategy on our Grants & Research website