Cancer Research UK announces dramatic cuts to its life-saving research budget

Cancer Research UK have announced today further dramatic cuts, slashing £45 million from its research budget.

This is around half of what is normally expected to be spent at this time, and it means dozens of potential life-saving projects and hundreds of world-class scientists have been left unfunded.

This devastating blow is on top of the £44 million cut made to current grants at the start of the pandemic, and the charity not being able to fund any new clinical trials this year.

The new cuts have led to 24 fewer research programs, 68 fewer projects and 12 fewer fellowships, and Cancer Research UK says there will be around 328 fewer researchers working on their research.

The charity says that a shrinking research portfolio will not only slow down future breakthroughs for people with cancer but could seriously reduce the chances of reaching the charity’s goal of 3 in 4 surviving their cancer by 2034.

Cancer Research UK has had to make reductions in its ‘response mode funding’, which makes up around a third of their research.

Due to the drop income from the pandemic, around 100 fewer grants will be funded. These span longer-term multi-million-pound research programs, specific research projects, and fellowships that support scientists at all career stages, from the promising future stars to some of the world-leading researchers at the top of their game.

Dealing with the challenge of the drop in fundraising, the charity will have to continue looking at ongoing reductions in other parts of the research budget.

Research carried out through response mode funding has transformed the way people with cancer are treated. Cancer Research UK scientists have helped to boost breast cancer survival over the past 40 years through the discovery of the BRCA genes and has helped to develop the some of the most promising breast cancer drugs like Herceptin.

Through response mode funding, Cancer Research UK scientists have also pioneered the development of a class of drugs known as PARP inhibitors that are rapidly transforming the treatment of not just BRCA-related breast cancer, but ovarian, prostate and other types of cancer as well.

Some of the world's most eminent scientists started out their careers through Cancer Research UK’s response mode funding. These include Professor Charles Swanton, who in 2003 received a junior fellowship to look at how genes interact with each other in cancer. He’s now Cancer Research UK's chief clinician based at the Francis Crick Institute, and leads TRACERx, a multi-million pound flagship project that is looking at how lung cancer evolves from diagnosis to relapse.

Sadly, the new cuts are the first phase of the dramatic reduction in research spend the charity previously warned may be necessary. Similar reductions are going to be made at the next funding round in the spring unless the charity’s income gaps are plugged by government support or more charitable giving. If nothing changes, Cancer Research UK could be spending £150 million less per year by 2024 as they face a potential £300 million decline in fundraising income over the next three years.

Covid-19 has slowed down our efforts to beat cancer. The closures of our charity shops and the cancellation of our fundraising events across the country means we have less money available for life-saving research, but we will never stop. We still have great ambition, are still the largest charitable funder of cancer research in the world, and will continue to fund the very best scientists in the UK and across the globe. We have always relied on the generous donations of all our supporters, but we need them now more than ever so we can continue to achieve these ambitions and so that together, we can still beat cancer.”

Michelle Mitchell, Chief executive, Cancer Research UK

As a charity, we fund around half of the UK’s publicly funded cancer research. Medical research charities like Cancer Research UK are the life blood of research and development in the UK, and we have all felt the devastating blow of the pandemic on our income. The recent Government spending review was a step in the right direction for cancer services in the UK, but we need urgent clarification to what measures are being put in place to support medical research charities through the Life Sciences Charity Partnership Fund. As a country that relies so heavily on charity-funded research, the UK risks weakening its reputation as a world-leader in science if charities don’t receive the right support.”

Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive director of research and innovation, Cancer Research UK


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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