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New approach to pancreatic cancer research needed

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 19 September 2012

National charity Pancreatic Cancer UK's report, entitled,"A cancer of unmet need: the pancreatic cancer research challenge", released today, highlights an urgent need to redress a historical legacy of neglect surrounding investment into pancreatic cancer research in the UK. The charity is calling for a new approach to directing research investment into cancers of unmet need.

The report states that this legacy of underinvestment is one of the key reasons that pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates of almost every cancer, with around 4% surviving the disease for five years or more; a figure that has hardly changed in 40 years.  Pancreatic cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK yet receives only 1% of the total research spend[1].

For its part in addressing the desperate need for investment, the charity will commit £½ million to a new Research Innovation Fund which will support innovative approaches to the biology, treatment and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

The report demonstrates  a direct link between increased investment in cancer research and increased rates of survival and says a cultural shift within the UK research community is needed in order to achieve better proportionality of research spend in relation to the burden of the disease.

An analysis of research spend into cancers shows, on the basis of mortality rates, that  investment  in pancreatic cancer research is significantly disproportionate to the burden of the disease. There are around 7,900 deaths annually and it has the lowest one-year survival rate of the 21 most common cancers but only £553 per death per year is spent on pancreatic cancer research. By comparison, in breast cancer, which has one of the highest one year survival rates of all cancers, there are around 11,550 deaths annually and £3,613 is spent on research per death per year. If pancreatic cancer were on par with breast cancer, over £29m a year would be spent on research - a 7-fold increase in investment - instead of the £5 million currently spent.

Pancreatic Cancer UK's report calls for the development of a strategic approach that will enable pancreatic cancer research and the pancreatic cancer research community to develop at a steady and sustainable rate. This would need to be over a three to ten year period, so that the investment gradually reaches the critical mass necessary to achieve change.

Pancreatic Cancer UK proposes that the UK needs to aim to double its pancreatic cancer research spend within the next three years. This equates to £10 million by 2015 and brings it roughly on par with the level of spend per death of prostate and bowel cancer. Longer term targets should be in the order £12 million by 2017 and £25 million by 2022.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, comments, "We are committed to working with others to double survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients in the UK. In order to do this, we strongly believe there needs to be significant and sustained investment in research into the disease. Our report serves as a call to action to all within the UK research community to give serious thought to how we can work together to change the pancreatic cancer landscape for the better.

"We are not calling for £12 million to be invested in the disease overnight, nor do we wish to see funding taken from other disease areas. We believe that research investment must be planned and managed over a sustained period. This will allow time to build a strong community of researchers and solid infrastructure necessary to deliver the high quality and impactful research that is needed to  make a real difference."

Peter O'Hare, Chair of Pancreatic Cancer UK's Scientific Advisory Board, comments, "There are huge hurdles to be overcome in tackling pancreatic cancer but it is crucial that we are not deflected from tackling the problems highlighted in our report. The pancreatic research community in the UK is a strong one. We need to champion those currently working in this area and provide incentives to attract more of the best and the brightest of scientific minds to this cause."

Pancreatic Cancer UK's Research Innovation Fund will see the charity commit an initial investment of £½ million into pancreatic cancer research. The fund is part of its "Smart Research" Strategy which focuses on making the most impact on saving lives, with limited resources, and also the charity's commitment  to fund research that is truly innovative and of the highest quality. The charity is particularly interested in supporting early stage pilot projects for better non-invasive methods, especially imaging, in the early detection and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and for the identification of individuals at high risk of developing the disease.

Supporters of Pancreatic Cancer UK are being asked to get involved in November's Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, by taking part in Raise for Research. The campaign supports the charity's aims to increase pancreatic cancer survival rates by increased investment in and focus on pancreatic cancer research.

[1] Research spend of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) - representing the majority of cancer research investment undertaken in the UK