The COVID-19 pandemic continues to highlight the critical role of research and collaboration to tackle health crises effectively. NCRI’s position has allowed us to provide oversight and support the rapidly emerging research area of COVID-19 and cancer. We kept the research community connected and worked across our charity, government, and research council Partners to understand the pandemic’s impact on cancer research and care and identify areas requiring additional study.
Coordinating a rapidly emerging research area
As the pandemic evolved, so did a new research area, COVID-19 and cancer. Registry studies rapidly emerged to document changes in cancer treatment and care. NCRI, using insights gathered from our Partners and Group members, compiled a list of COVID-19 registry studies to encourage knowledge sharing and enable collaboration.
NCRI also supported Health Data Research UK in collecting and prioritising health data research questions relating to cancer and COVID-19, submitting this information to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) Committee. This rapid intelligence-gathering and sharing was only possible due to NCRI’s established connections within the cancer research community.
NCRI’s Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research Working Group (CTRad), which focuses on clinical and translational issues relating to radiotherapy, developed COVID RT to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on both radiotherapy patients and radiotherapy services in the UK.
Developed in partnership with the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR), Society and College of Radiographers (SCoR) and The Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM), COVID RT has seen participation from 55 radiotherapy centres across all four nations.
COVID RT is creating a central repository where locally collected data can be compiled for analysis. The outputs will be essential to assess the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and inform the response to future pandemics.
Understanding the impact on cancer research and care
To understand the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and research, NCRI, alongside Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Public Health England‘s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (PHE NCRAS), brought together researchers from several different disciplines. The discussion identified the following areas that require further research and where we must learn lessons to improve research, care and help prepare for future crises.
We must work together across cancer research, care and beyond to address some of the key questions raised and take forward what we have learnt to ensure we can realise our ambitions for cancer prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.
Learning from shared observations and experiences
NCRI embraced virtual technologies to ensure that the NCRI Groups could continue to ensure continuity of research and provide a forum for clinicians, researchers and consumers to work together to respond to the pressures on cancer research and care. These discussions resulted in several groups developing guidance at a national level for cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The impact on cancer research funding
Understanding the impact of the pandemic on funding has been crucial. Which organisations, if any, would be more affected, and which areas of research? Using the NCRI Cancer Research Database (CaRD), we predict that charity research spend could drop by 46%, equating to £167m. Research focussed on specific cancer types will see the most significant reduction, as a large proportion of site-specific cancer research funding comes from charities (70%). These predictions are only possible due to the funding data collected by NCRI and the impartial relationships generated between charity, government and research council funders.