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International collaboration championed as Queen of Spain visits Cancer Research UK

Jacob Smith
by Jacob Smith | News

21 September 2023

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Queen Letizia of Spain (centre right) at Cancer Research UK's offices in London

Queen Letizia of Spain with CRUK chairman Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive Michelle Mitchell, and Ramon Reyes
Left to right: Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Queen Letizia of Spain, Michelle Mitchell, Ramón Reyes

Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain, honorary president of the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) and it’s scientific foundation, visited Cancer Research UK today to commemorate the upcoming World Cancer Research Day. 

Her Majesty joined senior leaders from Cancer Research UK, the AECC, the Italian Foundation for Cancer Research (AIRC), and the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) to recognise and celebrate international relationships in cancer research. 

Observed on 24 September, World Cancer Research Day promotes the importance of cancer research and highlights how integral continued investment in research is to achieve the scientific advances we need to beat cancer.  

Her Majesty’s visit included a meeting focussed on international researchers collaborating on co-funded research programmes and a panel discussion dedicated to the three key themes of this year’s World Cancer Research Day: integrating diversity, advancing research, and achieving equity. 

“Thank you so much for allowing me to be here today to see the successful teamwork between these organisations in this hard and complex journey of advancing in cancer research,” Her Majesty said. 

Queen Letizia of Spain in a closed meeting with international researchers, as well as representatives from Cancer Research UK
Queen Letizia of Spain in a meeting at Cancer Research UK with international researchers, as well as representatives from Cancer Research UK, AECC, AIRC and ESMO

Working in partnership 

Cancer Research UK’s partnership with AECC and AIRC began in 2016.  

Since then, they have worked together to co-fund the Accelerator Awards, which have helped to forge some strong relationships between leading institutions in the UK, Spain and Italy. 

Also at the forefront of international collaboration in cancer research is Cancer Grand Challenges, a unique funding initiative co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US. 

Cancer Grand Challenges aims to accelerate high impact research and translate discoveries for public and patient benefit by transforming how team science is conducted. 

Since it was founded in 2020, the Cancer Grand Challenges has committed over $270 million to its community of over 700 investigators and collaborators across 10 countries. 

One of the Cancer Grand challenges teams, the PROMINENT team, is funded by Cancer Research UK, the NCI, and the AECC.  

The team is taking on the normal phenotypes challenge – to understand how cells and tissues maintain “normal” phenotypes whilst harbouring mutations that could cause cancer, and how they transition to become a tumour. 

The team is investigating an alternative theory about the very early stages of cancer development called the promoter hypothesis – seeking to answer important questions about how tumours start and find new ways to prevent the disease. 

With researchers from the US, UK, France and Spain and across 6 institutions globally, the team are using a unique collection of resources. This includes a tissue bank of more than 4,000 mouse samples across all stages of tumour formation, and an extensively annotated collection of pairs of tumour and healthy tissue samples provided by more than 5,000 people across 20 countries.   


Cancer Grand Challenges also recently announced the international teams shortlisted for its fourth round of funding 

Their 12-team shortlist covers 8 of the new challenges announced in March, and spans 84 institutions in 18 countries, uniting more than 130 world-class investigators and researchers.  

The teams now compete for £20m ($25m) each to take on some of the most complex problems in cancer today. 

A panel discussion on the themes of this year's World Cancer Research Day
A panel discussion on the themes of this year's World Cancer Research Day. Left to right: Marta Puyol, Scientific Director, AECC; Andres Cervantes, President of ESMO; Federico Caligaris, Scientific Director, AIRC; Tanimola Martins, Research Fellow Exeter; Margaret Grayson, Cancer Grand Challenges Chair of Advocacy Panel; Catherine Elliott, Director of Research, Cancer Research UK.

The power of collaboration 

International collaboration, both between researchers but also funding organisations, is key in the fight against cancer. 

Relationships like the one Cancer Research UK shares with AECC and AIRC are vital to ensure this collaboration can happen effectively. 

The Queen’s visit also comes just weeks after the UK announced it will be rejoining the EU’s flagship funding scheme for scientific research, Horizon Europe. 

This means that, for the first time since Brexit, scientists and research institutes in the UK will now be able to apply for money from the £81bn (€95bn) Horizon Europe fund, the world’s largest research collaboration programme.    

“We were honoured to welcome Her Majesty Queen Letizia at Cancer Research UK to commemorate World Cancer Research Day,” says Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK. 

“Cancer is a global problem that requires a global solution. I’m proud of the role Cancer Research UK is playing in catalysing international collaboration between world-class researchers and funding organisations, through initiatives like Cancer Grand Challenges, to tackle some of the toughest research problems preventing progress in cancer.    

“Together, through diverse thinking and inclusive research, we can bring about a world where everybody lives longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.”