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Cancer Research UK’s ‘Commit to Beat Cancer’ campaign calls on parliamentary candidates to pledge to keep cancer high on the political agenda. Over the next few weeks we will be exploring some of the issues behind these calls.

In this instalment Emma Greenwood, policy researcher at Cancer Research UK, explains why all parties should support the UK’s world-class science base.

The UK leads the world in medical research – partly because so much of its medical research is funded by its charities. For example, members of the Association of Medical Research Charities spent £935 million on research in 2008/09.

At Cancer Research UK our research is entirely funded by the public’s generosity, demonstrating the UK’s heartfelt commitment to beating cancer. In 2008/09, we were able to spend £355 million of your donations on research, which supported the work of over 4,500 scientists, doctors and nurses – who are all trying to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.

But it’s vital that the country remains at the forefront of medical research. And this is where Government support is crucial.

Here are three key ways in which we are calling on the next Government to protect the UK’s position as a world leader…

Government must support charity-funded medical research in universities

Cancer Research UK alone funded £165 million of research in UK universities in 2008/09, with our grants covering the direct costs of research – i.e. paying researchers’ salaries and providing them with the equipment and materials they need to go about their daily work.

But the full cost of carrying out research at a university includes much more – for example, maintaining and constructing buildings and other ‘infrastructure’ overheads – which charities do not usually directly support.

Recognising that the upkeep of UK universities is the state’s job, in 2004 the Government created a funding mechanism known in England as the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF), to cover some of the infrastructure costs associated with charity funded research.

Worryingly, the Government’s promise to fund this runs out at the end of the next academic year. We want whoever wins the next election to commit to provide money to support charity research funding in universities in England.

And we want to see similar funds continued in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This will be essential if research funded by charities is to remain at such high levels.

Government must provide continued support for jointly funded initiatives

When we say ‘Together we will beat cancer’, we mean it. Cancer Research UK is working with a wide range of other organisations – including the UK government and its agencies – to tackle cancer on a number of fronts.

For example, Cancer Research UK is partnering with the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Wellcome Trust, and University College London to build the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation (UKCMRI). Our collective vision is to create a world-class research centre that will tackle some of the biggest medical challenges we face, in the largest biomedical research centre in Europe.

UKCMRI will bring together the best scientists, doctors and researchers, allowing them to work together and share cutting-edge resources and knowledge – and find new ways to treat cancer.

In another collaborative effort, Cancer Research UK and the MRC also jointly fund the Gray Institute for Radiation, Oncology and Biology in Oxford, which leads the way in re-establishing the UK as a world leader in radiotherapy and radiobiology research.

And the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) – a joint initiative between Cancer Research UK and the Departments of Health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have been established to develop biomarkers and new cancer treatments. ECMCs bring together laboratory and clinical patient-based research to speed up the development of new therapies by evaluating new drugs and individualising patient treatment.

To realise our ambitions in research, it’s vital that the next Government supports the groundbreaking UKCMRI, and maintains its support for the Gray Institute and the ECMC network.

Government must foster an NHS culture that supports and welcomes research

As we’ve blogged before, clinical research and clinical trials are vital in developing and improving cancer treatments. Without them, we wouldn’t know which treatments are safe or effective for cancer patients.

We’re calling on the UK Governments to foster a supportive environment for clinical trials and clinical research in the NHS – one in which healthcare professionals understand the importance of clinical research, and emphasise to their patients the value of involvement in research as a part of their treatment.

Indeed, the UK has an ambitious target to dramatically increase the number of patients involved in trials, set out in the NHS Operating Framework 2010/2011 – but this can only happen if a culture of research is embedded in the NHS.

Equally, as in universities, it is essential that the state continues to support charity research in the NHS by covering some of the indirect costs of conducting this research.

Finally, we come to patient data. The NHS treats the largest number of patients in the world, and routinely collects a wealth of information about them. This information – medical records, cancer registers and other databanks – can, used properly and ethically, help in researching causes of cancer, monitoring survival rates, and studying the effectiveness of treatments and interventions such as cancer screening.

Such data can also help us understand how people use health services, which is vital in identifying where inequalities exist.

We believe the use of data underpins many areas of cancer research. And so we want Government to provide a regulatory framework that supports and encourages the proper use of patient data in research.

Email your candidates today

We can’t act alone to beat cancer. Help us get parliamentary candidates to Commit to Beat Cancer and ensure that the UK’s research base is protected. We need their help to continue our world-class research, in a supportive and thriving environment – one which, ultimately, will continue to benefit cancer patients throughout the UK.


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