Action needed to break the vicious circle holding back pancreatic cancer research in the UK

New Inquiry highlights key reasons why research into pancreatic cancer remains critically underfunded and unpopular

A parliamentary Inquiry looking at pancreatic cancer research has set out a series of compelling recommendations aimed at improving the levels of funding in the UK for this disease, whilst also seeking to significantly grow the UK’s pancreatic cancer research community.

The publication of the much anticipated report, Pancreatic Cancer Research: a Roadmap to Change from The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pancreatic Cancer calls for a new approach to attracting inspiring scientists into this field.

Specifically, this new approach requires action from Government, NHS, research funders and academics to take advantage of the many positive opportunities for research in the UK.

The report will be launched later today [Wednesday 29 October 2014], on the cusp of November’s Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at a cross-party event hosted by the Group’s secretariat, charity Pancreatic Cancer UK. It will set out the case for increased funding in line with recent calls for Government and funding organisations to prioritise cancers of unmet need.

Although the UK boasts a number of world class researchers, excellent facilities and (through the NHS) offers a huge cohort of patients and patient data, the findings of the Inquiry highlight the need for swift measures to allow healthy development of a community of researchers and to ensure the network and infrastructure exists to support their work.

Key recommendations from the Inquiry include:

  • Increase funding over the course of the next decade to £25 million
  • Focus research activity on early diagnosis – including the future development of screening tools
  • National research initiatives that give priority to cancers of “unmet need”
  • A simplified  process for setting up clinical trials and improving research infrastructure
  • Amendments to the NICE drugs approval process
  • Greater collaboration among researchers and research institutions

Eric Ollerenshaw OBE MP for Lancashire and Fleetwood and Chair of the Inquiry, comments; “The APPG is in no doubt that the kind of change needed to make any impact on the current appalling survival statistics for pancreatic cancer will only be achieved through research: research that will aid early diagnosis and screening; research that will result in more and better treatments; and research that will hopefully offer opportunity for a cure.

“At the moment, we are not seeing enough research into pancreatic cancer. The low level of pancreatic cancer research funding is due in part to a relatively small pancreatic cancer research community, which therefore produces a small number of research applications.

“However, one of the key reasons the pancreatic cancer research community remains small is because of the low level of investment into research. This is a vicious circle we must strive to break.”

Pancreatic cancer is not rare. It is the 5th most common cause of all cancer deaths in the UK and by 2030 is predicted to overtake breast cancer to become the 4th largest cancer killer. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all of the 21 most common cancers in the UK with only about 4% of people diagnosed surviving five years or more. This figure has hardly changed in 40 years.

Despite being responsible for 5% of all cancer deaths in the UK, pancreatic cancer received just 1% of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) partners spend in 2013.

This APPG Inquiry is the first time a comprehensive review of the pancreatic cancer  research landscape that took into account such a wide range of stakeholders has taken place. The Inquiry took evidence between May and September 2014 and included submissions from researchers, funders, pancreatic cancer charities as well as industry and NHS stakeholders.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK adds; “The key findings from this Inquiry underline much of what Pancreatic Cancer UK have long argued:  that unless there is significant increase in research funding, it is highly unlikely that the necessary advances needed to beat this disease will be achieved. However, having this confirmed by such an informed and passionate group of stakeholders gives the case for greater funding for pancreatic cancer research in the UK.

“As a charity, we expect to award a total of £1million towards research, through various grants this year. So we feel we are playing our part. However, this is just the tip of iceberg and a much more comprehensive attitude to research is needed on a national scale if we are to start winning the fight against pancreatic cancer as well as speeding up the process of moving new treatments and diagnostic tools from ‘bench to bedside’.”

Professor Peter O’Hare, Chair of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Scientific Advisory Board, concludes; ““The APPG’s report is an important step towards developing a long-term strategy, including increased support and coordination of research into pancreatic cancer. At Pancreatic Cancer UK we are determined to help attract the additional talent we need into our research field, and I am glad this important area is covered in detail in the report.

“We are also pleased the report has recommended measures to try to increase funding into pancreatic cancer. As I told the Inquiry, research is not like a sausage grinder; you don’t put research in one end and it comes out the other and you’ve solved the problem. It just doesn’t work that way. However, what is certain is that if you don’t carry out research, you are not going to move forward; nothing is going to happen. So, as the APPG report says, we need to see more research happening.”

The full recommendations can be viewed on pages 4&5 of the report, and a list of witnesses who contributed to the Inquiry on pages 34&35.

Read the full report here.

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