Deadliest cancers have received just 7% of research funding over 10 years: new report calls on government to end vicious cycle of research neglect

Posted on: 2nd December 2019

The British Liver Trust, as part of the Less Survivable Cancer Taskforce, is calling on the Government to end the vicious cycle which has seen survivability stagnate amongst the six deadliest cancers over the last decade.

A Less Survivable Cancer Taskforce Barriers to Research report states the central challenge to increasing the five year survival over the next decade is addressing the slow progress of research. While more common cancers such as breast cancer have seen a huge boost in survivability, less survivable cancers such as lung cancer and pancreatic cancer remain as deadly as ever.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy at the British Liver Trust said: “Our report argues that this disparity in patient outcomes is due to research and funding inequalities. We need liver cancer and the other less survivable cancers to have the same level of attention and funding that has been given to other cancers which has resulted in huge improvements in survival rates and care.”

Half of all cancer deaths in the UK are as a result of lung, liver, brain, stomach, oesophageal or pancreatic cancer yet less than 7% of research funding is focused on these cancers.

The report identifies that a key barrier to research breakthroughs is the perception that the deadliest cancers are too difficult to cure. This perception has meant that research funding is being diverted away, creating a vicious cycle of neglect, ensuring that prognoses remain poor.

A commitment to doubling survival rates

The taskforce is calling on the Government to break this vicious cycle and encourage researchers to focus on less survivable cancers by adopting a formal survival target, committing to doubling survival rates to 28% by 2029.

Further to this, the taskforce recommends long-term dedicated support of initiatives that coordinate and network the less survivable cancers research communities such as international conferences and steering groups. This will allow a greater understanding of other work in the field to ensure research efforts complement and synergise rather than duplicate each other.

The taskforce is also critical of the Government’s “all cancer approach” highlighting that the Government’s resistance to prioritising specific cancers ignores the inequalities already present in cancer research.

The taskforce knows that the only way to transform survival is to invest in hard to treat diseases. Currently, more survivable cancers are receiving four times the level of government funding than that allocated to the deadliest cancers.

The report makes a series of recommendations to improve the survivability of the deadliest cancers including prioritising research programmes and investment decisions according to current survivability and mortality rather than prevalence.

It also suggests funding new designated early career fellowships to encourage researchers to build their careers in tackling less survivable cancers to encourage much needed research.

Anna Jewell, of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, said:

“Every eight minutes a patient in England is diagnosed with a less survivable cancer, yet these patients are facing a struggle, with limited treatment options. Decades of underfunding and neglect have resulted in a survival rate of just 14%.

"Pharmaceutical companies are unwilling to perform clinical trials due to the negative results, which will result in less funding. If the Government is serious about transforming the fight against cancer, then it must step up and invest in research for the Less Survivable Cancers."

The Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce is a coalition of six charities representing cancers that have a survivability of less than 30% over the course of five years from diagnosis.

The charities and the cancers they represent are:

  • Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation – Lung cancer
  • British Liver Trust – Liver cancer
  • The Brain Tumour Charity – Brain cancers
  • Guts UK – Stomach cancer and gastric cancers
  • Action Against Heartburn – Oesophageal cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK – Pancreatic cancer

The taskforce wanted to identify and understand the barriers to research into less survivable cancers. Research leads across the six charities were identified and invited to take part in a short survey by email. For the smaller charities in the taskforce, responses were obtained from researchers working in the field and known to the charities.

This story was reported in the Mail Online.

* The 7% figure is the average over 10 years. It is calculated from using the most recent NCRI data available, the six less survivable cancers received only 12% of national cancer research funding in 2017-18.

 

 

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