The aim of the awards is to help advance our understanding about the biology of the disease and the challenges translating discoveries into treatments.
Research teams can now apply for grants up to £10 million for each project over five years. Up to £18 million will be awarded in the first round.
These are the largest awards specifically designed for brain tumour research in the UK, which encourage multidisciplinary approaches from scientists. The aim is to accelerate research in a bold and innovative way that would not be possible through traditional funding schemes.
Cancer Research UK has committed £15 million to the Brain Tumour Awards, and The Brain Tumour Charity has committed £3 million.
Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said: “We urgently need new insights and treatments to tackle brain tumours to improve survival. We want to attract and inspire the research community to accelerate progress for a disease that has seen few treatment options developed for patients and consequently little change in survival.”
The Brain Tumour Awards address six major themes:
- Unlocking new insights into brain tumours using neuroscience
There is a wealth of neuroscience research on how the brain works and on other neurological disorders. This theme aims to harness this information to help to expand our knowledge of how brain tumours begin and progress.
- Unpicking brain tumours’ biology to design more effective drugs
Many of the genetic events that fuel brain tumours have yet to be discovered. This theme seeks to address the knowledge gap, which could lead to the discovery of new targets for treatments, and the development of drugs against them.
- Exploiting the brain tumour environment to make better treatments
Brain tumours are influenced by their surrounding environment, which is unlike anywhere else in the body. This theme is about gaining a deep understanding of the cells and tissues around the tumour and the protective blood-brain barrier*, to inform the development of new ways to detect and treat the disease.
- Developing more accurate ways to study brain tumours
Many potential new treatments that have shown promise in lab research have failed in patients. One of the reasons behind this is that studies in cells and mice don’t always capture what happens in people. The aim of this theme is to develop better ways to study brain tumours in the lab, to accelerate the translation of research from bench to bedside.
- Improving brain tumour diagnosis to make treatment more personal
Many brain tumours are diagnosed based on how the cells look under the microscope, but this misses other vital pieces of information – such as genetics – which can influence how the disease will behave. This theme seeks to develop a more precise way of classifying brain tumours, which will help improve clinical trials and treatment decisions.
- Develop kinder treatments for brain tumours
While some brain tumours grow quickly and need aggressive treatment, others progress slowly and patients could be spared intensive therapy where it’s not needed. This challenge aims to make treatments kinder for patients with less aggressive brain tumours, lowering the risk of side effects and improving quality of life. This is particularly important for children with brain tumours, where long term side effects can significantly affect quality of life.
The new funding scheme is in addition to the £13 million Cancer Research UK spent each year on research and development of new treatments for brain tumours. It is part of the charity’s ongoing commitment to invest an extra £25 million into brain tumours over the next five years.
Dr Iain Foulkes added: “This is an exciting step forward in our ambition to accelerate brain tumour research. In 2014, Cancer Research UK laid out its plans to tackle the challenges in improving survival from brain tumours. Since then, the charity has substantially increased its funding into the disease and attracted some of the world’s leading experts to the UK.
“We hope the Brain Tumour Awards will create even more capacity in the UK for brain tumour research, and we are excited to be working with The Brain Tumour Charity on this initiative. We look forward to receiving applications that push the edge of our thinking for one of the most difficult to treat cancers.”
Dr David Jenkinson, chief scientific officer for The Brain Tumour Charity, said: “We have two goals at The Brain Tumour Charity: to double survival and halve the harm caused by brain tumours.
“The Brain Tumour Awards are designed to drive progress towards those goals by encouraging research across all areas, from brain tumour development through to diagnosis, the impact of current treatments and the discovery of more effective drugs.
“We know that collaboration is key to achieving our goals, which is why we are delighted to be co-funding these awards with Cancer Research UK.”
Each year around 11,400 people in the UK are diagnosed with a brain tumour and just 14% of people survive their disease for 10 or more years.
The Brain Tumour Awards are being announced at the Cancer Research UK inaugural Brain Tumour Conference 1-3 May 2018.
*The blood-brain barrier is a natural filter and only lets certain substances through from the blood to the brain tissues. It allows molecules like water and glucose – which are essential for normal brain function – to reach the brain cells, while keeping out unwanted, damaging things like bacteria and neurotoxins.