Hundreds of thousands of people have been given the gift of life thanks to the extraordinary drugs it helped to create – often under its former guises of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and the Cancer Research Campaign.
Yet despite the breakthroughs and quantum leap in understanding the diseases, half of us will still face cancer in our lifetimes. CRUK’s research discovered that faulty genes drive cancer cells to grow – and paved the way for the development of drugs like vemurafenib for skin cancer, and tamoxifen and trastuzumab (Herceptin) for breast cancer.
It also ran AddAspirin, the world’s largest clinical trial into whether the painkiller could prevent some common cancers from returning. This helped identify the “Angelina Jolie gene” BRCA1 – a faulty version of which can raise the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
It also led to the approval of olaparib as a treatment for advanced ovarian cancer.
And now cervical cancer is on the verge of being eliminated thanks to CRUK scientists showing HPV causes the majority of cases. But the charity celebrates its 120th anniversary with a chasm in its research budget.
It lost millions in income during the pandemic and did not receive a penny from the Government despite a forecast loss of £300million.
As a result, CRUK has spend around £100million less on research under Covid. And looking ahead, its budget will be £50-70million less a year than it should have been.
Chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “Taken together, our research has contributed to at least 50 cancer drugs in use today, including carboplatin [chemotherapy for ovarian, lung, head and neck cancer, and certain types of brain tumours] which is one of the most widely used in the NHS.
“More than 120,000 patients a year receive cancer drugs linked to our work. But for all the success stories, there is still much to do. We will not rest, because research is the way to beat cancer. We can build on our life-saving legacy.”
The pandemic has also had a devastating impact on cancer diagnosis and treatment – with an estimated 55,000 missing patients.
There are usually around 367,000 new cancer cases in Britain every year – equal to 1,000 a day. The NHS Long Term Plan set a target of 75 per cent of cancers to be diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 to 75 per cent by 2028. It fell to 37 per cent by December 2020.
CRUK research boss Iain Foulkes said: “The Government has an ambition for the UK to be a science superpower. The pandemic has shown us all the power of science. To make the most of the UK’s scientific firepower, we need action and investment from the Government, starting with a swift recovery for cancer research.”
120 years of achievements – MICHELLE MITCHELL
The World Summit Against Cancer in 2000 sought to build an invincible alliance to beat cancer. Just two years later Cancer Research UK was born, uniting the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and Cancer Research Campaign. It’s been a 20-year alliance that accelerated substantial progress but our achievements go back 120 years when the ICRF was founded.
Our researchers have established a Nobel Prize-winning heritage, producing life-saving treatments and innovations.
We’ve contributed to modern radiotherapy – used on 130,000 in the UK each year – chemotherapies, hormone treatments and targeted therapies. Our research has helped develop at least 50 cancer drugs in use today. More than 120,000 patients every year receive medication linked to our work. Our experts have also helped uncover causes of the disease and ways to prevent it.
Tobacco was first linked to cancer in the 1950s but it took 50 years to show that lifelong smokers died around 10 years younger.
Now smoking is at historically low levels with bans throughout the UK.
Our scientists showed HPV causes most cervical cancers and led early work on a vaccine. Fourteen years after the first HPV jabs went into arms, cervical cancer rates have fallen by almost 90 per cent – an incredible achievement.
CRUK’s impact is exemplified by breast cancer. In the 1970s, just four in 10 women survived beyond 10 years, often diagnosed late. Surgery and radiotherapy were the main options. We have helped change that.
Since 1988, millions have been screened, detecting cases early. In the 1990s drugs such as tamoxifen and Herceptin arrived.
Now, thanks to our experts, PARP inhibitors target gene faults. Today, eight in 10 people survive breast cancer for 10 years or more.
But cancer still casts too long a shadow over too many families. We have so much further to travel.