An image of Flora Skeates

Survivor Flora Skeates and her family

Flora Skeates knows only too well the difference that cancer research makes. Diagnosed with bowel cancer when she was just 28, her treatment involved the drug oxaliplatin – a drug that our scientists played a key role in developing.

She’s now representing Cancer Research UK in a photo that’s part of the ‘Legacies Through A Lens’ exhibition in London, highlighting the importance of legacies – donations left in wills – in raising money for charities.

Around a third of the money we spend on our research comes from generous gifts left by people in their wills, so it’s a good opportunity to explore how the hard work of our scientists and doctors led to Flora’s treatment.

The journey of a cancer drug

The path trodden by almost all cancer treatments starts with a scientific discovery made in the lab, which is then tested, tested and tested again – ultimately in rigorous clinical trials – before the drug is finally approved for widespread use.

Indeed, many of our scientists are trying to find new drugs to treat the disease in exactly this way, and over the years they’ve had many significant successes.

Oxaliplatin is one of these.

The drug is now used to help treat bowel cancer patients after they’ve had surgery for advanced disease. For these patients, surgery to remove the disease is usually the most effective form of treatment.

But over the years, research has shown that chemotherapy after surgery can reduce the chance of the disease coming back.

The story of oxaliplatin

The structure of oxaliplatin

Oxaliplatin is based on the metal platinum

Oxaliplatin was first discovered by Japanese researcher Professor Yoshinori Kidani in 1976, and patented three years later in 1979. Like other platinum-based ‘blockbuster’ drugs, cisplatin and, carboplatin, it’s based on the metal platinum.

But while cisplatin and carboplatin became rapidly and widely used around the world, oxaliplatin took longer to arrive, with research on how best to use the drug continuing through the 1980s and 90s.

Finally, in 2007, the results of a Cancer Research UK clinical trial called EPOC proved that the drug could help treat advanced bowel cancer, and extended patients’ survival, when used in combination with two other chemotherapy drugs – 5-fluorouracil and leucovorin.

Now this combination is regularly used as standard treatment for people with advanced bowel cancer, in clinics around the UK – and Flora is a testament to its effectiveness.

As we said above, Flora was just 28 when she was first diagnosed with bowel cancer – an unusually young age to be struck with the disease. But thanks to her treatment, today Flora is happy and healthy with a loving husband and two children.

And there are many more like her. Hundreds of thousands of cancer patients benefit from drugs that Cancer Research UK has helped to develop. Through our research, we’ve contributed to the discovery or clinical trials of nearly 50 drugs now in clinical development. These drugs will save many thousands of lives in the future.

But despite the huge progress we’re making in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, there’s still a long way to go. That’s why gifts left in wills are still urgently needed for our vital work.

You can watch Flora’s story on our website, where you can also find out more about how you can help beat cancer by leaving a gift in your Will to Cancer Research UK

Laura Dibb

Laura works in Cancer Research UK’s press team


B. Nordlinger, H. Sorbye, L. Collette, B. Glimelius, G. J. Poston, P. M. Schlag, P. Rougier, W. Bechstein, E. Walpole, T. Gruenberger. Final results of the EORTC Intergroup randomized phase III study 40983 [EPOC] evaluating the benefit of peri-operative FOLFOX4 chemotherapy for patients with potentially resectable colorectal cancer liver metastases Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2007 ASCO Annual Meeting Proceedings Part I. Vol 25, No. 18S (June 20 Supplement), 2007: LBA5