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Working together to make progress against cancer


Karen Kennedy

Director of the National Cancer Research Institute

Collaboration in research is key to building on the huge progress we’ve already made in treating cancer and to help bring new treatments to patients faster.

Since I became Director at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI), it has become clear what a strong commitment there is to partnership working in cancer research in the UK; particularly across research funders, institutions and clinical networks, and with the active involvement of patients and carers. This ethos of working together, coupled with world-leading research, has dramatically accelerated progress. Survival is higher than ever and half of all cancer patients now survive for at least 10 years after diagnosis.

Thanks to research and collaboration, our understanding of cancer has grown hugely. This has led to important advances in treatment and the way we manage the disease. A revolution in genetic sequencing means personalised cancer medicine is now a real prospect, and treatments can be given to those most likely to benefit. We’re also developing smarter technologies and techniques in well-established treatments like radiotherapy, making it more precise, more effective and with fewer side effects.

One area that is causing huge excitement is immunotherapy – harnessing the power of the immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells. These treatments have shown some dramatic results in early stage clinical trials and we are all watching to see how they translate into treatments in the clinic.

At least a third of all cancer cases are preventable, so finding ways to encourage healthy behaviour will help prevent many cancers and other chronic diseases. We also know that the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment will be, which is why screening and public awareness are key areas.

With around 2.5 million people now living with and beyond cancer in the UK, research is essential to help these people live well and to find solutions to problems such as the long-term effects of treatment. We must also find better ways to provide care and support for people at the end of their lives.

As a UK-wide partnership between cancer research funders, the NCRI coordinates and oversees the research that underpins this progress. This is important in such a diverse field: there are more than 200 types of cancer and, across the UK, a breadth of funders, industry partners and medical, scientific and other experts involved in research, as well as patients themselves. The annual NCRI Conference in Liverpool each November is one way we bring everyone together to share research and knowledge, and strengthen partnerships.

We’ve seen so much progress and there could be a temptation to say that it’s time to move on to other diseases. But half of people will now be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. Working together to keep the momentum going is vital to ensure we can bring the benefits of research to patients and the public faster.

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