Dr Ann Tate joined Cancer Research Wales last year and has already overseen key developments that will help Cancer Research Wales fund research to save lives and find solutions which will address the cancer issues which affect the people of Wales.

Why did Cancer Research Wales want to become NCRI partners?

The NCRI has long been recognised as a prestigious organisation and ‘a major cancer think-tank’ where the UK’s most influential and biggest funders are brought together to further improve and facilitate all forms of cancer research. As each partner organisation has well integrated clinical, scientific and patient representation, the NCRI is well positioned to set an overarching strategic direction for cancer research. This enables members to contribute to the cancer research landscape in a more coordinated way, maximising the activities of each individual organisation through unique contributions and collaborations, whilst minimising risks such as duplication.

As Cancer Research Wales has consistently funded over £1.5M of new research each year, we believe becoming NCRI partners will give us the ability to greatly enhance the impact of this spend. NCRI’s national and international reach will importantly help Cancer Research Wales to identify and respond to opportunities and challenges in the wider field of cancer research as they emerge.

What are you most looking forward to as NCRI partners?

Cancer Research Wales very much looks forward to the sharing and formulating of novel ideas as well as forging new relationships and meaningful collaborations with other partners. The capacity for Cancer Research Wales to communicate its own funded research with the wider research community through the meetings and events NCRI hold will help our work have immediate impact beyond Wales with more patients potentially benefitting.

As a charity that has a broad scope with respect to the projects it funds, Cancer Research Wales will greatly benefit from the collective and specific expertise that other partners will bring, especially those partners which focus on certain cancer types. This will provide Cancer Research Wales with greater insights into the unmet needs that exist within each research area.

The frequent setting of priorities and launch of new initiatives by the NCRI will allow Cancer Research Wales to continue to respond to needs in a more relevant and timelier manner and help broaden the resultant research equity across the country. Importantly for us, being NCRI partners, is just as much about ‘What can we do for the NCRI’ as ‘What can the NCRI do for us’. We very much look forward to making a significant contribution where and when we can.

What is the most exciting opportunity in cancer research in Wales currently?

Undoubtedly, the development and launch of an All Wales Cancer Research Strategy is currently one of the most exciting opportunities for cancer research in Wales. Targeting research was one of the seven key domains highlighted in Welsh Governments five-year Cancer Delivery Plan released in 2016. Research will be key to improving cancer care, as overwhelming evidence exists to suggest the more research-intensive local health boards are, the better patient outcomes tend to be.

An overarching national cancer research strategy across the whole patient pathway in Wales would improve cross-organisational collaboration between the many seemingly disparate, yet excellent pockets of cancer research that is undertaken within the Universities and Health Boards across Wales. It has been wonderful to see the NCRI so instrumental in providing oversight and support, with Dr Ian Lewis, NCRI’s Head of Strategy & Initiatives offering many important national insights that have helped shape the development of the strategy to date. This is vitally important as Wales needs to be continually outward looking as well as focussing on cancer issues as they relate to Wales.

The All Wales Cancer Research Strategy, will better align research activities, encourage exploration, innovation and collaboration, pool resources, expertise and infrastructure, identify challenges and gaps, whilst establishing better links with patient groups and industry. This really represents a once in a lifetime opportunity for cancer research in Wales, and one we hope that all stakeholders will grasp in its entirety.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for cancer research in Wales?

The challenges for cancer research in Wales are like the challenges that present in other parts of the UK but are perhaps more amplified in certain areas. These include, but are not limited to, overall poorer grant capture by Welsh researchers, and workforce pressures in cancer service delivery. Research is often the loser when workforce pressures are great.

A key issue in Wales is the recruitment and retention of high-calibre cancer research scientists and clinicians. This is further compounded by the poor career structure and insecure employment for academic scientists, beyond PhD level, as well as a lack of opportunities and dedicated research time for clinicians and other allied health professionals.

A closer and more integrated working relationship between the professions who deliver the cancer care at the coal-face, and the academics/scientists who undertake the research are critical for the embedding of the most promising research into routine clinical practice. This is something that the Wales Cancer Research Centre has done well to try and address, and something we hope the All Wales Cancer Research Strategy will also enhance and help to achieve in time.

Photo by Richard Clyborne of Music Strive