Tuesday 18 May 2010

Breast cancer research cash is in danger of drying up

Our third Scientific Conference is taking place today with a packed schedule and over 300 delegates from all over the UK and from as far away as Canada, the USA, Nigeria, Poland and Australia.

I will indulge myself my repeating here some facts about Breast Cancer Campaign -

Our mission is to beat breast cancer by funding innovative world-class research to understand how breast cancer develops, leading to improved diagnosis, treatment, prevention and cure.

We are a serious player in the breast cancer research field, currently supporting 113 research projects, worth over £17.1 million in 40 centres of excellence across the UK and Ireland. Over the past 14 years, the charity has awarded 302 grants with a total value of over £31 million to universities, medical schools and research institutes across the UK, and now also in Ireland.

As I told the delegates – they all know that breast cancer is a high profile disease and as the most common cancer in the UK it should be. The picture is completely different for women today than in the 70’s. Thirty years ago only half of women with breast cancer survived for more than five years. Today that figure is around 80 per cent. Women are living longer after breast cancer but simply surviving is not enough and five years is not a lifetime.

This is the good news. The bad news is that breast cancer research cash is in danger of drying up. Potential new life saving breast cancer treatments may never reach the patient if the new Coalition Government fails to continue supporting charity-funded research.

We know it is a difficult and uncertain financial climate but we need reassurance that support funding will remain consistent. A ‘quick fix’ cut will have long term implications for breast cancer research and ultimately impact on the lives of people with breast cancer.

Currently the Charity Research Support Fund contributes to the cost of the research institutions’ utilities such as heating and lighting, leaving medical research charities like ourselves free to fund research.

This is a conference by scientists for scientists – Campaign needs to ensure that the infrastructure continues to be provided to house their research and we can continue to support it.

I saw in the paper this morning that the departing Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Liam Byrne, left a letter for the new guy – David Laws, “Dear Chief Secretary, I am afraid there is no money, Kind regards and good luck.” Apparently it was a joke – just shows how out of touch with the world those chaps who run the country can be.

The abstracts are published today in Breast Cancer Research as a supplement.

Monday 17 May 2010

Exciting week for Breast Cancer Campaign

Monday morning will see 30 of the top scientists and clinicians working in the breast cancer field debating on the allocation of research grants. Those that make it through to this meeting of our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) will have already been reviewed by at least two and up to six or seven independent experts in the field from across the UK and as far afield as Houston and Sydney. Those that make it through to this stage are then debated and discussed.

My research colleagues at Campaign and I stand back from this process – a huge amount of work goes into managing the process (all paperless by the way) but we leave it to the experts to decide what is the best research – what will make the greatest impact on people with breast cancer in the future. They then make their recommendations which go forward to the trustee board.

It is obviously nerve-wracking for the applicants but also for us: it is no secret that money is very tight and, as others have cut back, the number of research grants coming to us is increasing and tough decisions have to be made. I wish I had a money tree!

What I find so extraordinary is that these scientists do not get paid anything for reviewing the research; the SAB are rewarded with a night in Travelodge (no criticism of Travelodge but it ain’t the Dorchester) not to forget the pizza dinner. That doesn’t account for the time spent in doing the reviewing – about two hours per grant and each board member could have up to seven or eight to review.

You may wonder why I am harping on about this – it is because I think that so few people outside the research field realise this – it is altruism but also a passion for research and a commitment to changing lives.

There may be even more pressure on charity funded research which is why our election campaign was about the Charity Research Support Fund – our plea to Government – please commit to maintaining this – see my blog Please read on even if politics isn't really your thing – more about that another day.

Tuesday sees our third Scientific Conference – sold out – more about that tomorrow.

P.S. If you wonder what I have been doing since the last blog - my incandescence of rage (if there is such a thing) about the absence of women from the election campaign and after could not be suppressed so I didn’t trust myself to write anything – just focused on the day job!

Tuesday 4 May 2010

A perfect storm

It looks as if I was not alone in thinking what I was thinking in my previous blog post. Where are the women in this election campaign? Within moments of posting the blog I received a letter from a fellow Forum UK member, Kate Jenkins, on the subject which I was more than delighted to sign. You can see it here and then on Saturday there was an article in The Times by Janice Turner.

I am not totally sure where the fault lies – is it the reluctance of the parties to put women forward and is this because the media focus on what they are wearing rather than what they are saying. The press has been awash with interviews and photos of the wives - wonderful that the three party leaders have supportive wives but they are not being elected and their views should not influence us.

I don’t think this discussion will end on Thursday – there are too many of us who feel that this has been a testosterone-fuelled campaign to the detriment of all!