Worldwide Cancer Research Menu

The Dragons’ Den-style contest to fund cancer research

This week our Scientific Advisory Committee will meet in Edinburgh to determine which research projects will be awarded the £4 million funding raised by our generous supporters. 27 eminent cancer researchers have scrutinised hundreds of proposals from top research institutions all over the world.

Dr Helen Rippon, Worldwide Cancer Research CEO, explains more about the process and the exciting strides cancer research has made over the years.

“The meeting is in the style of Dragons’ Den, with scientists pitching for the projects they think are the most exciting and ground-breaking for the future of cancer treatment and research.

Our aim is to fund the best quality research with the best possible impact. We have set few boundaries and an open remit, so we will take pitches from junior researchers to prominent experts in the field of cancer research and are happy to fund long-term projects that might come to fruition in 20 or 30 years.

Cancer research has made huge strides over the last 30 years or so and we are much smarter about treating cancer. Scientists are now looking at targeting treatments by understanding the molecular nature of cancer – the mechanism of how cancer works to come up with kinder and more effective treatments.

And rather than classifying cancers by what tissue they happen to occur in, we now realise that tumours form as a result of different causes, so a colon tumour may have more in common with a lung tumour than another colon tumour.

We are now looking at how we harness the immune system to attack cancer. Usually our immune system detects cancerous cells and destroys them but in cancer these cells are hidden. If you could reawaken the immune system to catch these cells then the body itself can deal with cancer rather than using powerful drugs.

This kind of immunotherapy treatment, using drugs that take the brakes off the immune system, has been effective in the treatment of melanomas, which used to have only a five-year survival rate but now some people live very long term. The next step would be to develop cell-based therapy using primed immune cells inserted into a cancer patient’s body.

Other themes being looked at are why disrupted sleep patterns can lead to higher rates of cancer, and why cancer can be dormant for 10-20 years and pop up again, and how to stop it reawakening.”

From the 760 applications we received from all across the globe, the Scientific Advisory Committee filters out the best 180, with help from external reviews by thousands of scientists around the world who specialise in relevant fields. Each application is assigned to the two most appropriate judges to champion in front of his or her peers at the meeting on Thursday. The top-scoring 20-25 research projects will receive grants from a pool of £4 million.

We are looking forward to the results and will keep you updated on which projects the charity is funding very soon.