World-renowned Cambridge scientists back call for urgent investment in research

Professor Sir Stephen Jackson, Professor Richard Gilbertson, Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and Professor Greg Hannon have joined forces with Cancer Research UK to call on philanthropists to help tackle the disease.

Cambridge research leaders are among a coalition of the world’s most renowned cancer researchers, which includes three Nobel Prize winners, has penned an open ‘letter to the world’ in which they argue that cancer is a “defining health issue of our time” that requires a united and collective worldwide response on a par with COVID-19.

Professor Jackson, Senior Group Leader and Associate Director of Enterprise and Partnership at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, and his fellow eminent scientists assert that we’re at a ‘tipping point’ that could transform how we understand and treat cancer – but more support for life-saving research is needed to beat the disease. 

Joining him in signing the letter are fellow Cancer Research UK-backed research leaders: Professor Greg Hannon, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute; Professor Richard Gilbertson, Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre; and Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, Director of the Early Cancer Institute at the University of Cambridge.

With global cancer cases set to increase by around 50% in the next twenty years, Professor Jackson is supporting the launch of Cancer Research UK’s More Research, Less Cancer campaign - the largest ever philanthropic fundraising drive by a UK charity.

It aims to raise £400m to help fast-track research that could benefit millions of patients in the East of England and across the world.

It comes as Cancer Research UK’s latest analysis reveals around 110,000 deaths could be avoided in the UK alone, over the next two decades, if cancer mortality rates are reduced by 15% by 2040. This could mean around 10,000 fewer people in the East of England dying from the disease during this time.

The inspirational story behind Professor Jackson’s work powerfully brings to life the ‘size of the prize’ at stake and the vast rewards that could come with greater investment. With a Knighthood for innovation and research, his work has saved many lives and helped put Cambridge firmly on the map as an international leader in cancer research. His research has established many of the key principles by which cells respond to and repair DNA damage, and how such understanding can be exploited to better treat cancer.

Professor Jackson said: “Realising we could develop compounds to interfere with DNA repair and setting up the world’s first DNA repair drug discovery company (KuDOS) led to the existence of the drug Olaparib, the first anti-cancer medicine targeted to patients based on them having an inherited predisposition.

“Olaparib has now treated over 75,000 people with ovarian, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers. There are many people alive today who wouldn’t be otherwise. Its development is the most meaningful of my career to date and is without doubt my ‘eureka’ moment. None of this would have been possible without funding from Cancer Research UK, which has provided funding throughout my entire independent scientific career to the tune of between £15-20m – or to their supporters who have given generously, taken up fundraising challenges, attended fundraising events or supported its shops.”

Cancer Research UK spent over £46m in Cambridge last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

On the urgent need to help accelerate progress, Professor Jackson said: “Cancer remains the number one cause of death in the UK and the global impact of the disease is devastating. So, it’s vital that future advances are not held back by a lack of funding, when so many incredible breakthroughs are almost within our reach. 

“Ideas that were once science fiction, are becoming science fact. Now, we’re standing on the brink of discoveries like new blood tests that could detect cancer at an earlier stage, and algorithms that could predict someone’s cancer risk and help stop it from developing in the first place. Discoveries ultimately have the power to give millions of people in the East of England – and across the world – more quality time with their loved ones. That’s why I’m calling for more support.

“Beating cancer will take scientists, researchers, clinicians and entrepreneurs joining forces across disciplines and continents. Together, we can go further and faster in the fight against the disease.” 

The More Research, Less Cancer campaign will: support innovation that translates discoveries in the lab into revolutionary new tests and treatments; find and fund future leaders in cancer research; help support the work of the Francis Crick Institute; and unite global researchers to answer cancer’s toughest questions through the Cancer Grand Challenges initiative.

It comes at a time when philanthropists are being encouraged to give. Despite analysis by the Beacon Collaborative showing that generosity among wealthy people is increasing, a recent report by think-tank Onward pointed out that the wealthiest 10% of households now donate half as much as a proportion of their income as those in the poorest 10%, suggesting they could do much more to support charitable causes worldwide.

The campaign aims to recruit people with “the means and vision to bring about a better world”, to join the army of fundraisers and donors that power Cancer Research UK’s life-saving research every day.

It says, excluding research funded by industry, charities fund 62% of cancer research in the UK, compared to government’s 38% - reinforcing the critical importance of the public’s support.

Cancer Research UK spokesperson for the East of England, Shelley Baxter, said: “The more we understand about cancer, the more we understand the scale of the challenge. So, we’re grateful to Professor Jackson for lending his voice to this ambitious campaign that could have far-reaching effects for people across the East of England and beyond.

“Nearly 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime so, now more than ever, we need the support of every person and every pound. As the scientific community has underlined, beating cancer requires a collective effort. We’re grateful to all our supporters, fundraisers and donors for their generosity and the vital part they play in helping us to ensure more people can live longer, better lives, free from the fear of cancer.” 

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22 Feb 2024