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Urgent action required for the UK and US to tackle the global cancer epidemic

A new study by leading researchers in the UK and the US has highlighted the critical need for more strategic collaboration between these two global powerhouses of cancer research to address one of the most common causes of premature death worldwide.

The study, published today in the premier cancer journal The Lancet Oncology highlights that while collaboration between the two countries has increased over the last 40 years, there are important research gaps critical to improving service delivery and patient outcomes. It emphasizes the need to finance a broader portfolio of research and collaborations between the UK and the US with Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), where more than 75% of the global cancer burden will occur by 2040.

While there has been a significant increase in joint UK/US cancer research,  the focus has been somewhat narrow, predominantly on discovery, biomarkers, pharmaceutical and epidemiological research, with little bilateral collaboration in domains such as screening, surgery, radiotherapy, health services research (including implementation science), palliative care, and survivorship.

The transatlantic study involved researchers from King’s College London, Queen’s University Belfast and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK together with colleagues from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology in the US.

Professor Richard Sullivan, Director of the Institute of Cancer Policy at King’s College London and lead author of the paper said: “Whilst enhancing UK-US collaboration is a welcome boost to cancer research, the reality is that current strategies are too narrowly focused to really deliver better population outcomes. The lack of significant commitment to global cancer research is also a major area that needs to be addressed.”

Professor Mark Lawler Professor of Digital Health, Chair in Translational Cancer at Queen’s University Belfast and a co-author on the paper said: “Cancer does not respect borders, so neither should we. Through the Ireland – Northern Ireland – National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium (one of the less recognized achievements of the Good Friday Agreement), we have shown over the last 20+ years the impact that a broad-based transatlantic collaborative approach can have on improving cancer outcomes and enhancing cancer survivorship and reintegration into society.

“Our data show that we have a huge opportunity here to unite our collective strengths on both sides of the pond to address one of society’s greatest challenge, particularly given the disastrous impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on cancer services and cancer patients. Collaboration makes sense; let’s compete, not against each other, but against our common enemy – cancer.” 

Professor Julie Gralow, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and co-author on the paper said: “The US and the UK are global leaders in conducting cancer research, as well as the world’s leading funders of cancer research. Strengthening partnerships between researchers across these borders, as well as promoting equitable and sustainable collaborations between higher-resource and low/middle-resource settings, offers the potential to accelerate global cancer research and improve outcomes for all people affected by cancer.”

The researchers argue that pursuing a broader cooperative cancer research agenda, underpinned by data intelligence, will provide an unrivalled opportunity for the UK and the US to show clear international leadership and help accelerate evidence-driven action to reduce the global burden of cancer.    

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Photo: Professor Mark Lawler

Professor Mark Lawler

The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

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