£55m cancer alliance aims to boost detection rates

Author: Mark Gould

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Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has donated £40m to a major alliance of six UK and US universities and charities to improve early cancer detection rates.

The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) is a partnership between CRUK, the Canary Centre at Stanford University, the University of Cambridge, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute in Portland, Oregon, University College London and the University of Manchester.

It aims to get a better understanding of the biology of early cancers and pre-cancerous states to allow doctors to find accurate ways to spot the disease earlier and where necessary treat it effectively. It could even enable ‘precision prevention’ – where the disease could be stopped from ever occurring in the first place.

CRUK will invest up to £40m over the next five years with donations from Stanford University and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute taking the total potential contributions to more than £55m.

UK statistics highlight the major improvements in survival that could be achieved. The five-year survival rate for six different types of cancer is more than three times higher if the disease is diagnosed at stage one, when the tumour tends to be small and remains localised, compared with survival when diagnosed at stage four, when the cancer tends to be larger and has started to invade surrounding tissue and other organs.

CRUK says “great strides” have been made through existing screening programmes, such as for bowel, breast and cervical cancer, and increasing public awareness and GP urgent referral of patients with suspicious symptoms. However, for many cancer types no screening tools exist and new technologies for detecting cancer have been slow to emerge.

Previously, researchers taking on this challenge have faced many barriers, including lack of funding and collaboration opportunities, meaning research has been small scale and disconnected. Individual research groups have chipped away at big challenges with limited success. By combining the efforts of some of the leading research institutions in the world in early detection, ACED will accelerate breakthroughs, leading to quicker benefits for patients.

Michelle Mitchell, CRUK’s chief executive, said: “Now is the time to be ambitious and develop effective new ways to detect cancer earlier. It’s an area of research where we have the potential to completely change the future of cancer treatment, turning it into a manageable and beatable disease for more people.

“Real progress in early detection can’t be achieved by a single organisation. Benefits for patients will only be realised if early cancer detection leaders from around the world come together. No more silos, no more missed opportunities; let us tackle this problem together and beat cancer.”

And prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Every two minutes, someone in the UK has their world turned upside down when they are diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to the pioneering work of UK researchers and our world-beating NHS, more people are surviving than ever.

“However, there is more to do to detect and cure this disease earlier. That is why I am pleased to welcome this new UK-US alliance, driven by Cancer Research UK.

“This is the transatlantic partnership at its very best. Our brilliant scientists will be able to work together to develop detection technologies and implement them in our health service, so we can find cancer earlier and ultimately save people’s lives.”

OnMedica

Editorial team, Wilmington Healthcare

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