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Opinion: “With Cancer Grand Challenges, we’re about to take collaboration further than we ever have before”

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by Cancer Research UK | Philanthropy and partnerships

3 September 2020

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Michelle Mitchell

Our chief executive, Michelle Mitchell OBE, invites visionary philanthropic supporters to back our innovative research-funding programme, which we’re taking to the next level with a new transatlantic partnership with the US National Cancer Institute.

Cancer is a global challenge.

No single organisation, scientific discipline or country can solve it alone. I’ve long believed in the power of collaboration, and it’s always been central to our approach. But now, thanks to a game-changing new partnership between Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) – two organisations at the forefront of the global fight against cancer – we’re about to take collaboration further than we ever have before.

When we launched our Grand Challenge programme in 2015, it was a completely new approach to funding research. We offered a series of £20m ($25m) grants to outstanding international teams of researchers, giving them the freedom to think differently, act creatively and explore novel techniques. Our goal is simple: to make transformative leaps in our understanding of cancer and accelerate our progress in diagnosing, treating, and ultimately preventing cancer. This bold ambition relies on a global network of like-minded individuals, organisations and philanthropists all working towards our shared goal to defeat cancer.

The programme currently funds seven teams, who are each tackling one of the toughest questions in cancer – for example, why cancers grow in some tissues and not others, and how to distinguish between lethal cancers that need treating and non-lethal cancers that can be left alone. We’re extremely excited by the progress already underway. Researchers from one team, for example, have discovered that a common strain of intestinal bacteria could contribute to the development of colorectal cancer, which means that the risk of developing this type of cancer could be reduced, and thousands of cases potentially prevented, through screening and eradication of certain strains of the bacteria. Meanwhile, another team has built the first model of cancer that can be viewed in virtual reality, technology that allows scientists to immerse themselves in a tumour and study its characteristics in new ways not possible in 2D. It will also allow multiple doctors and scientists in different locations to study a tumour simultaneously to speed up diagnoses and treatment decisions.

By partnering with the NCI, we can take our ambitions for the programme further, and together we’re proud to be forging a new era for cancer research under our new name, Cancer Grand Challenges. From our initial investment of over £130m into the programme, including generous support from two partners, The Dutch Cancer Society and Alex Knaster of US-based The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, we will now significantly increase support for Cancer Grand Challenges with the NCI as a co-founder and partner. By leveraging £175m from the NCI and committing ourselves to raising a further £120m, we will support at least 12 additional teams over three rounds of funding.

Cancer Grand Challenges is about making radical progress against cancer. But it has broader potential too. A win for global cancer research is a win for individuals across the world who are affected by cancer, and for the millions more affected by other diseases, as many of the questions we pose are bigger than cancer. And we want to be instrumental in advocating this new approach to medical science, which is challenge-led, problem-focused, multidisciplinary and international.

The announcement of our landmark partnership with the NCI is just the beginning. It pushes us not only into a new phase of the programme, but also the next phase of global collaborative research. But to realise our ambitions we need to inspire visionary philanthropists – those we know and those we have yet to meet – to help us seize this opportunity. We cannot tackle cancer alone. Join with us to support great minds in cancer research – those who will lead us into new realms of possibility, delivering better outcomes for people with cancer worldwide and allowing us all to live longer, healthier lives.

– By Michelle Mitchell OBE, chief executive, Cancer Research UK

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