Opinion: ‘We can’t afford to stop now’

Cancer, Covid-19
Researchers look down a microscope

Last weekpeople around the country waited to hear what the UK Government would spend money on next year. It was a tense wait, for many reasons. This year has been difficult for everyone – for people affected by cancer, for cancer researchers, for us as a charity – and the spending review was an opportunity to move forward with recovery. For the past few months, we’ve been working closely with our brilliant campaigners, researchers and other charities to help make the case for support.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive officer of Cancer Research UK.

Michelle Mitchell is our Chief Executive.

Overall, the results were a mixed bag – but a step in the right direction. We saw some extra funding for the NHS, and though much more is needed, it moves us one step closer to improving cancer survival for people in the UK. But while it was clear that the Government sees the value in research and development, medical research charities didn’t get the lifeline we were hoping for. 

We can’t stop now1 in 2 people born since 1960 will get cancer. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’ve helped double cancer survival in the last 40 years. Despite this fantastic progress in cancer survivaltoo many people still die from cancer every year. We’ve got bold goals for improving cancer survival and we’re guided by a vision for a world where all cancers are cured.   

We’ve got reason to be confident, because we know from our history that research saves lives. Our research has played a role in developing 8 out of the world’s top 10 cancer drugs, and every day we take steps forward. Just this month the first chemotherapy-free drug combo for bowel cancer was approved for NHS use in Englanddrugs that were built on foundations laid 20 years ago by our researchers. 

But COVID-19 has slowed down our efforts to beat cancer, and it’s made our mission a whole lot harder.  

Because to fund that research, to make that progress, we need to raise funds every year. Every step we take towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated. 

Unfortunately, that’s been harder this year than it’s ever been, as the pandemic has disrupted so much of our fundraising. It was the right thing to do to keep our community safe, but it’s meant that in a matter of days, we were knocked off course.  

We expect to lose 30% of our income this year alone, and it’ll take several years to recover. 

Without further support, we’ll need to make major cuts to our research budget  every year for the next 4 to 5 years. This  would mean we’ll be spending £150 million less per year by 2024 than we’d planned to. 

The impact of this funding crisis is already being felt. Normally, we’d be funding 10 clinical trials each year to test new treatments. But we haven’t been able to fund any new trials in 2020 and applications for new trials have been halted until next spring.  

It’s taken decades to build this momentum. If we have to make this level of cuts, it’ll take years to get that back. We can’t afford to stop now.  

That’s why for the first time in our history, we asked the Government to step in, to invest in our world-leading, game-changing, life-saving research. Thank you to everyone who added their voices to that call. 

We know that this would be a solid investment for a Government, and a Prime Minister with a vision for the UK as a science superpower. And in the years to come, that investment would pay dividends for people with cancer.  

The UK could become a science superpower – but not without charities like ours. Because we don’t just fund over half of publicly funded cancer research in the UK, we also fund state-of-the art facilities and support thousands of scientists across the UK.

The Government did announce an increase in research and development spending – a total of £14.6 billion will be spent over the next year. They’ve shown their commitment to science, but there were no commitments to spend some of that money on supporting medical research charities 

We are taking this forward with the Government as a matter of urgency and we’ll keep up the pressure. Even a small amount from the Government would be a lifeline for our research.  

COVID-19 has left us facing one of the most difficult challenges in our history. But despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, we’re absolutely determined to continue saving lives.  

We’ve always known that no one organisation, sector or even country can beat cancer alone. That has never been truer than it is now. We are a community of millions, desperate to see progress in cancer survival. 

And with your continued support, we’ll have cause for hope.  

Michelle Mitchell is the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.

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