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Tackling hard-to-treat cancers from every angle

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

20 June 2017

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Illustration of brain

Improving the quality and quantity of research into cancers with the poorest survival rates remains a key priority across all aspects of our research activity – from funding breakthroughs in biology, to growing a sustainable community of world-leading researchers.

In the three years since we pledged to increase research funding in cancers of unmet need, we have increased spend in our four identified priority cancers – lung, pancreatic, oesophageal and brain. We invested £85.8m across these four disease types in 2016/17, more than doubling our spend since 2013/14.

But our ambitions in tackling these hard-to-treat diseases go far beyond funding research, as each of these intractable diseases has its own unique challenges.

We have been working closely with the community to determine the critical scientific questions or identify gaps in infrastructure standing in the way of progress, with a view to taking proactive, bespoke approaches to each disease type. Activities have ranged from specialist symposia and conferences bringing the research community in these fields together, to looking at ways to fund large-scale international research initiatives in partnership with others. A second symposium on oesophageal cancer took place in spring 2017, followed by a workshop with key members of the international research community to identify priority areas for research. And with the long-term view of building a sustainable community working on each disease, it is encouraging that this year we have seen an increase in the number of career development awards focused on the unmet need cancers, particularly in brain tumours.

In lung cancer, a notable highlight this year is a collaboration through our partnership with the US Cancer Moonshot Initiative which will see Professor Caroline Dive at our Manchester Institute and Professor Peter Kuhn’s team at the University of Southern California apply their combined expertise and technology in circulating tumour cell analysis to study the blood of patients with early-stage lung (and bowel) cancer, to see if they can identify those who will relapse.

Here, we focus on two of the toughest cancers – pancreatic and brain – and share some of the exciting investments, initiatives and new research we’re funding in the UK and internationally.