Ian Lewis, NCRI’s Head of Strategy and Initiatives tells us about NCRI’s new Strategy Advisory Group. This group of thought leaders from across the research spectrum will provide strategic advice to the NCRI Partnership to achieve our mission of accelerating progress in cancer-related research through collaboration.

Last year alone, the major cancer research funders that make up the NCRI partnership spent around £672m on cancer research. All of this money is invested in research projects that were carefully selected on the basis of their quality, the importance of the questions they seek to answer, and of course how well they fit with the strategies of each individual funder.

However, whilst these research projects will go on to generate huge amounts of knowledge that will ultimately benefit countless people affected by cancer, their journey from idea to impact will not necessarily be a smooth one.

Apart from the fact that cancer itself is not one single condition but rather a group of complex, adaptable diseases that often defy all the clever tools we have at our disposal, there are also structural and organisational challenges in the way that we resource, design and execute research that hinder progress towards new treatments and services.

Addressing these gaps and challenges, seizing opportunities, and turning knowledge into actual real-life benefit for people affected by cancer is what the NCRI is all about and is articulated clearly by our strategic aims.

Drawing on the opinions and experiences of researchers and experts from across the entire spectrum of cancer research is essential to identify these key issues and where collaborative solutions could really make a difference.

Introducing our Strategy Advisory Group

At our recent Partners meeting, we were pleased to introduce the newly formed NCRI Strategy Advisory Group, where the Chair, Professor Tim Maughan, discussed some of the main challenges, opportunities and gaps in cancer research for the NCRI to potentially address. These included:

  • the almost unique opportunity the UK has to utilise the vast amounts of data collected through the NHS and other sources to answer key questions (and the barriers/frustrations in actually trying to do so in practice!);
  • the challenges and delays faced by researchers in the funding, set up and delivery of clinical cancer research;
  • the importance of high quality imaging in clinical research and the need to better support and recognise the contribution played by this research community;
  • the “Living With and Beyond Cancer” research agenda and a recognition that this area is key to people affected by cancer;
  • the importance of training and retaining the next generation of cancer researchers, and the need to maintain a well-trained, motivated workforce across the research spectrum;
  • the emergence of immunotherapy as an incredibly powerful tool in the treatment of cancer and the questions that still require answers before more patients can benefit from it;
  • the opportunity to develop a network of patient public involvement in cancer research across the UK.

These are all big areas, but all things that the NCRI has existing activity in.

The next step is to work with our Partner organisations and others to scope out each topic in more detail and try to identify where collaboration through the NCRI could play a greater role in accelerating progress.