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Better Together: Developing New Collaborations for Cancer Research

, by Norman E. Sharpless, M.D.

In November I had the privilege of participating in a virtual scientific summit with leading cancer researchers, clinicians, patient advocates, and industry representatives from the United Kingdom and the United States. We gathered over two days to identify strategic opportunities for our nations to collaborate on cancer research, as agreed to by President Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this year. 

Cancer Research UK, Medical Research Council in the UK, and National Cancer Institute logos

The joint UK-US scientific summit was convened by NCI, the UK Medical Research Council, and Cancer Research UK, and focused on how collaborative efforts can advance our goal to end cancer as we know it. This challenge laid out by President Biden—to end cancer as we know it—is within our reach. 

Our deliberations were structured around six themes that characterize cancer as we know it today, and that we aim to transform: 

  • We have too few methods to prevent cancer.
  • Cancer detection is often too late, too slow, and too expensive.
  • We face racial and socio-economic disparities in diagnosis and outcomes.
  • We fail to learn as much as we can from every patient in our health systems and those participating in clinical trials.  
  • Too many of our new treatments are based on paradigms that are not driving overall survival improvements.
  • We don’t understand how tumorigenesis in the absence of clear mutational processes occurs.

Discussions focused on identifying barriers to progress in each area and generating ambitious ideas for overcoming these challenges. Each theme generated substantive and enlightening dialog among the participants and revealed shared challenges between the two countries but also differences—particularly in cancer care delivery. 

A number of cross-cutting themes emerged, including the urgent need to address health inequity and to embrace patient perspectives in all areas of cancer research. Attracting talented researchers from diverse perspectives to the field was another recurring concern and priority throughout the deliberations. 

I anticipate that further discussions and development of specific projects to address these needs, share data and insights, compare experiences, and create best practices will yield meaningful advances to help transform cancer as we know it today – not just in the US and UK—but worldwide. 

Recommendations generated at the summit will be further refined through community engagement opportunities in the months ahead. 

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