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