Irish Cancer Society announces new Research Roadmap
The amazing generosity of our whole community allows the Irish Cancer Society to be the largest non-state funder of cancer research in the country. That is an amazing privilege but also a huge responsibility. We are completely dependent on that ongoing generosity, and to ensure that we make best use of it - to make a direct and tangible difference to everyone affected by cancer - we have developed a Research Roadmap to guide our next five years of research investment.
Arising out of the publication of our new organisational strategy last year, the Irish Cancer Society undertook a significant, externally-overseen exercise to examine the fit of our various funding schemes with this strategy, and to generate a ‘Roadmap’ for the next five years of research funding to ensure alignment.
We’re very grateful to the many cancer stakeholders who helped generate this plan. It has successfully been submitted and approved by our Board at their recent meeting.
What’s the focus of our Roadmap?
The Roadmap provides direction for our funding calls for the next five years and earmarks a significant budget to support those research investments targeted at directly improving outcomes for those affected by cancer in this country.
Under our strategy, the research activities of the Society will revolve around a focus on themes with greatest urgency for those affected by cancer, specifically: translational; clinical trials; survivorship; and strategic areas.
Translational research can be defined as 'bench to bedside' or patient-focused research. The aim of translational research is to translate existing knowledge about cancer biology into techniques and tools that will accelerate progress towards patient benefit.
Much of the outputs of translational research naturally merge into trials, the next area of focus.
Clinical trials are organised investigations to examine the benefits of new approaches to treatment and care. For example, looking to see if a new medicine can improve survival for a particular form of cancer. Importantly though, similar opportunities exist in other areas too, such as diagnostics; technology; radiotherapy; surgery; exercise and nutrition; and combinations of these.
Survivorship research seeks to improve the quality of outcome for people from the day of diagnosis, through and after treatment, right up to the final outcome of that treatment and including palliative care. It also seeks to examine how best to have these advances integrated as standard of care within our health system.
The Strategic Projects designation seeks to specifically foster and grow research into areas of high unmet need in cancer. For example, cancers which have not benefited from the huge strides in outcome seen in some malignancies (metastatic cancers, pancreatic, ovarian, brain etc); children’s cancer; as well as areas where unique opportunities are emerging, such as immuno-oncology.
Across the above areas of focus, our awards will break down into three major groupings:
Patients: Research to support people affected by cancer
We also specifically invest to empower patients to become close partners in the prioritisation, development and undertaking of research. For example, with Public & Patient Involvment (PPI) and communications activities.
People: Investments to foster and produce world class research leaders in Ireland
We will continue to support specific parts of the career cycle to allow researchers to achieve a profile that will enable them to reach the caliber needed to drive real improvement for people with cancer, and draw down sustainable, large-scale funding as leaders and principal investigators. This will include training and targeted investments at key career points for translational scientist and clinicians. It will also further grow the research career opportunities for allied healthcare professionals - these are the patient-focused specialists like nurses; dietitians; psychologists; physiotherapists; speech and language therapists, etc., who see first-hand the opportunities to improve the quality of outcomes for those in our community affected by cancer.
Enormous strides have been made to improve the quantity and quality of cancer outcomes but we know that the numbers affected by cancer will double over this generation. It is critical that we invest in cutting edge research if we are to maintain progress and have research available to us and our families here in Ireland when we need it. Remember that, on average, more than half of us will receive a diagnosis of an invasive, potentially life-threatening cancer in our lifetime.
Projects: Targeted actions to make a specific impact in particular issues or opportunities in cancer research
For example, Covid-19 has had a massive negative impact across all aspects of cancer care, and evidence is already mounting globally and locally that cancer outcomes are deteriorating as a direct result of the impact of the pandemic on treatment and research. Hence, we have announced a number of Covid-specific research initiatives looking to quantify the impact, and to support research to find real-world solutions to aspects of care.
We will fund further vital projects in the area of cancer survivorship as well as discrete projects in specific areas such as unmet needs; poor prognosis cancers; and combating cancer misinformation, to name just a few in a longer list of priorities.
How much will it cost?
As a charity which gets almost all of its donations from the incredible generosity of the public and our community, our goals are very dependent on maintaining and indeed growing that support. However, based on current projections our ambition is to invest approximately €15 Million in enabling the practicalities of the Roadmap. That is only a fraction of what is needed to support the scale of vital cancer research in this country. However, we will endeavour to make maximum leverage on the generosity of our donors through partnerships with other agencies, institutions and funding opportunities. For example, we previously contributed €7.5 Million to enable the incredibly successful breast cancer research of BREAST-PREDICT, and the research team involved leveraged over €50 Million from other sources off the back of the Society’s core support.
The below graph broadly shows the division of investment between the four areas of our Roadmap's focus:
How will we invest through this Roadmap?
The Roadmap commits us to competitive research calls across the areas outlined. The research community will be familiar with the practicalities of these mechanisms, but, in essence, we advertise a 'research call' to the research community. Researchers will submit their best ideas and concepts under the definition of that individual call and submit an application to us. The Irish Cancer Society's research team recruits a panel of top independent, global experts (from outside Ireland), along with people affected by cancer here in Ireland, to choose the best of those applications to award.
The winning submission is converted into a contract which is meticulously followed for delivery by our research department over the lifetime of that award. You’ll continue to see the awardees and their outputs profiled by us on our website, social media and in our email newsletters.
We are indebted to a panel of cancer patient, survivor and carer volunteers whose support is vital in helping us to choose the individual awardees.
We also have a specific independent Research Advisory Committee who oversee and examine the process and delivery of the activities of the Irish Cancer Society research department, and report on their findings directly to our Board.
With so much at stake and with the awards of money ranging from thousands to millions of euro, such a multi-layered and independent governance process - informed and guided at every step by those personally affected by cancer as well as people with scientific, management and financial expertise - is critical to ensuring the best return for the amazingly generous donations (big and small) entrusted to us.
While most aren’t aware of it, our nation has a proud research history and has always played a disproportionately significant role in global cancer research. For example, all radiotherapy of cancer grew out of research findings more than a century ago – the so-called 'Dublin method'.
Our Research Roadmap will drive the research activities needed to deliver the strategy of the Irish Cancer Society. The Roadmap places improving the outcome for those affected by cancer at its core and seeks to foster and enable the growth in expertise and talent needed for the ongoing improvement we need. The key ambitions of that plan have been decided by stakeholders. The ongoing oversight and delivery of the Roadmap will continue to be decided by people affected by cancer, top world experts and strong, independent governance. You’ll continue to see the evidence of the actions and activities of the Roadmap in the coming years. We look forward to more detailed discussions with our research colleagues all over the country.