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Leading cancer researchers highlight concern for pancreatic cancer patients post-Brexit

Posted by: Comms 24 August 2017

Cancer researchers have expressed the strength of their concerns about the potential impact of Brexit, with 89 per cent of researchers saying it could have a very negative or negative impact on pancreatic cancer patients. This is according to the results of our survey of 108 cancer researchers (1).


The survey we carried out as part of our Research at Risk campaign, also found that 74 per cent of researchers surveyed thought that Brexit could have a very negative or negative impact on clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. A leading pancreatic cancer researcher labelled Brexit’s potential impact on pancreatic cancer research as “disastrous”, while another called it “devastating.”

The risk that Brexit poses to healthcare and the NHS has been well documented, but as a charity we believe that the threat is particularly worrying for pancreatic cancer. Since 2008, the EU has contributed at least £6.2 million to pancreatic cancer research in the UK. The charity says it is crucially important to protect this funding for the future because the disease lags far behind most other cancers, in terms of tools to diagnose the disease earlier, and the treatment options available to patients. This leaves pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed with the disease in 2017 with a similar chance of surviving as patients diagnosed in the early 1970s, with less than seven per cent of patients currently surviving beyond five years.

Professor Massimo Pinzani, Director at the UCL Institute for Liver and Digestive Health, said: “Brexit is a concern for pancreatic cancer because this is an emerging area of research. Important progress is being made in terms of developing tools for the early detection of the disease, as well as treatments. Leaving the EU is likely to slow down the speed of this progress enormously. Funding is a worry, because after 2019 we will not be able to access EU grants unless a resolution on this is made. Multinational studies, necessary for pancreatic cancer due to it being a less common cancer, can only be funded through an EU grant.

Prof Massimo Pinzani

“Right now, British patients with any disease are first line on a clinical trial, because mostly the trial co-ordinator is based in the UK. However this may not be the case when the European Medicines Agency relocates away from the UK. Overall the effect of Brexit on pancreatic cancer research could be disastrous.” 

Dr Bill Greenhalf, Researcher in Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine at University of Liverpool, is currently working on a pancreatic cancer research project which has benefited from £50,000 of EU funding. Dr Greenhalf said: “The immediate effect of Brexit on pancreatic cancer patients will be that they may not be able to take part in EU and international-led clinical trials, which would be a huge blow. Brexit could also be devastating for pancreatic cancer research because the EU has been our biggest research funder over a number of years. Obtaining funding for trials, and securing partnerships with other European institutions, is already becoming more difficult. It is as though the brand of UK cancer research is becoming toxic.”


As a charity, we are now calling on the UK government to guarantee EU research funding for the disease, ensure researchers from across the EU are able to work in the UK, and continue to allow UK pancreatic cancer patients to take part in EU clinical trials, post-Brexit.

Our Chief Executive, Alex Ford said: “With pancreatic cancer set to become the UK’s fourth biggest cancer killer by 2026, the UK government must protect EU funding for vital research as we begin the next chapter of Britain’s history. We are beginning to see exciting research breakthroughs which could pave the way to change the future for this long-neglected disease, and to halt this progress would be a tragedy for patients and their families.

“Pancreatic cancer attracts less than two per cent of UK cancer research funding each year. Without a guarantee of EU funding for research and access to EU clinical trials, the treatment options of current patients would be even more limited. Looking to the future, crucial progress into finding new ways to diagnose the disease earlier and find new treatments could be severely delayed. We urge the government to make Brexit a step forward for people affected by this tough disease, rather than a step backwards.”

49-year-old Sharon Myatt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2013 and had surgery to remove her tumour. She was then one of 732 patients across the UK, Germany, Sweden and France to take part in the ESPAC 4 clinical trial. This was heralded as enormous progress for pancreatic cancer treatment, as it found that 29 per cent of patients treated with a combination of chemotherapy drugs after surgery lived for at least five years, compared with 16 per cent of patients given gemcitabine, the current standard treatment after surgery, alone.


Sharon said: “As a pancreatic cancer patient, I didn’t have many treatment options, so I jumped at the chance to take part in the trial. Beforehand I felt there was very little hope, but now I truly feel I have a life yet to live. In the last three years alone, I have seen three grandchildren born and have watched them grow from babies to toddlers. I’ve also seen more of the world and am back at work. These are experiences that are denied for so many people with pancreatic cancer.

“I feel proud to have been part of the trial, and not just because it had such a positive outcome. Without trials, we wouldn’t know which treatments work well and which don’t. We can’t move forward. That is another reason why other patients must still have the chance of taking part in all possible trials.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s survey also found that:

  • More than a fifth (22 per cent) of respondents said they received funding for their research from the EU.
  • 92 per cent of respondents said that Brexit would have a negative impact on their ability to obtain EU research funding
  • 89 per cent of respondents said that Brexit would have a very negative or negative impact on recruiting workforce from the EU
  • 88 per cent of respondents said that Brexit would have a very negative or negative impact on research collaboration

We need your help to:

  • Guarantee EU research funding for the disease
  • Ensure EU researchers are able to work in the UK and vice versa
  • Safeguard access for UK pancreatic cancer patients in clinical trials

With your help we can raise awareness and build pressure on the government to protect EU research funding for pancreatic cancer after Brexit.

Take action now

  • Write to your local MP - Use our template to raise concerns to your local MP
  • Spread the word – Share this news story with your networks on social media.
  • Tweet your candidate – Find your local candidate using this tool and ask them to support our #ResearchAtRisk campaign

Together we can urge the government to make Brexit a step forward for people affected by this tough disease.


(1): Pancreatic Cancer UK carried out a Survey Monkey survey of pancreatic cancer/ cancer researchers online between 11 July 2017 and 17 August 2017. 108 responses were received. 52 per cent of respondents worked in basic research, 12 per cent in clinical research, 11 per cent in oncology, 8 per cent in surgery, 6 per cent in nursing, 2 per cent in policy, 2 per cent in the pharmaceutical industry and 9 per cent in other areas.