Developing partnerships and working collaboratively are underlying principles of our Research Strategy. We are one of the many players in the global fight against cancer and we know we need to work effectively with a range of partners if we are to achieve our goal to deliver the greatest impact for patients.
Underpinning all our collaborations is the high quality of the research undertaken, and the ability to achieve more through the partnership than we can on our own. We draw together unique capabilities from different players across the research community to create mutually beneficial partnerships that support our own research objectives and those of our partners.
Our partnerships cross all areas of our research, from our approach to funding, to supporting and delivering research, as well as the ways in which we influence policy.
Ian Walker, Director of Strategic Partnerships at CRUK, talks us through the CRUK approach to developing partnerships and outlines a few examples which demonstrate our achievements in this area.
“Successful partnerships start with a shared vision and scientific interest” says Ian. “It’s not just about creating a shopping list of things we’re currently doing and finding organisations to partner with. It’s much more targeted – we’re talking to organisations around key areas of our research strategy. This approach opens us up to exciting possibilities to deliver our strategy in the most innovative way possible.”
Delivering against our strategic objectives often means breaking down geographical boundaries, so we can work on the global stage. Ian is quick to stress that he is interested in finding the right partners to work with, wherever they are located. “We can work together to make use of strengths from across the global community. Our scientists work internationally all the time, they’re collaborating on a permanent basis and our international and partnership agenda is developing in response to this. By working with the best people we are able to deliver outstanding results in a productive way.”
Each partnership is different, set up to deliver specific objectives which are mutually beneficial to the parties involved. We are flexible in our approach and consider and implement a range of different models dependent on the circumstances and scientific needs.
“There is no one definition of what a partnership looks like for CRUK – they will all look and feel different. What is important is that they’re about facilitating the science – helping pool resources and expertise, bringing a shared vision and, ultimately, driving quality and impact that could not be achieved working in isolation.
“Our portfolio of partnerships includes activities at every stage of the research pipeline, and across all cancer types. However, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to develop new or strengthen existing partnerships.” Ian thinks CRUK is uniquely placed to help break down the boundaries between organisations and research disciplines. “We look forward to developing our partnerships further so we can accelerate progress in all areas of our efforts to tackle cancer.”
Building foundations in early detection: Knight Cancer Institute
In 2015, we entered into a transatlantic agreement with the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) because they share our strategic focus on developing the emerging field of early detection of cancer. The partnership aims to meet the urgent need for better methods to detect cancer in its earliest stages – an area that could make a big difference to cancer survival.
Our synergy in interests will enable both parties to further their agenda and deliver greater benefit to the research community. Ian describes what this pairing offers. “Early detection is a nascent field that needs so much more thinking. We are starting on a journey together – by building a partnership at this early stage we have a unique opportunity, working together to set the questions and define what the priorities should be”.
The partnership began with a workshop in 2015 to identify the key areas and set the direction of travel for research within this field. The key challenges identified at the workshop went on to influence the agenda for an annual international conference bringing together experts from around the world, which will alternate locations between the US and the UK. Ian explains: “By bringing together experts and thought-leaders in a wide variety of disciplines, from biomedicine to technology and engineering, we’re exploring the challenges from multiple angles. We don’t have the answers yet, but by working in partnership, we will leverage the full power of our communities to tackle this area.”
Our partnerships are about facilitating the science – driving quality and impact that could not be achieved working in isolation
Fostering a culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration: EPSRC
Our partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is an example of two organisations committed to investing in outstanding UK expertise, coming together to enable innovative collaborations between researchers in different disciplines.
“CRUK has had a close working relationship with the EPSRC for a number of years – this partnership came about from having an existing relationship in place and spotting an opportunity which aligned strategic priorities from both organisations”, explains Ian. The result is a multiyear funding scheme which requires applicants to partner with researchers from another discipline, drawing together biologists with engineers or physical scientists to address important cancer questions.
And this partnership offers significant value beyond delivering a shared funding scheme: “Multidisciplinary working will keep us at the forefront of emerging technologies and our partnership with the EPSRC facilitates the delivery of multidisciplinary working in the best way possible” explains Ian. “Engineers and physical scientists bring a different problem solving perspective which complements the way that biologists work – this can help move a conversation forward in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Realising the promise of precision medicine: Molecular Analysis for Personalised Therapy (MAP) conference
While the technologies used for personalised medicine are robust, how best to interpret the resulting molecular analyses is still a matter of debate. And more needs to be done to understand which molecular alterations should be targeted in cancer patients.
To address this challenge we have joined forces with UNICANCER, an umbrella organisation for all the French Comprehensive Cancer Centres, and ESMO, Europe’s leading medical oncology society, to deliver a world-class scientific meeting that explores ways to better use existing research data to improve clinical oncologists’ personalised treatment programmes for patients.
The MAP conference represents a partnership driven by researchers. Experts working in precision medicine identified the need to set a clear framework that the community could use to optimise use of personalise cancer treatments. They wanted a meeting specifically to discuss the practical issues doctors and researchers face as they try to make precision medicine a reality for patients.
“The conference was an idea that came from Charlie Swanton, Fabrice André and Jean-Charles Soria – three leaders in their field. They had a great idea about developing the precision medicine agenda and realised that CRUK were ideally placed to draw together the right people and expertise,” says Ian.
The first MAP conference took place in October 2015. We are now working with the founders and partners to deliver an annual conference to highlight the latest medical developments in an evolving field, equipping clinicians and researchers to clearly interpret molecular analyses of their patients.
In this article
Director of Clinical Research and Strategic Partnerships, Cancer Research UK
This story is part of Pioneering Research: our annual research publication for 2015/16.