2019 Science Review

It has been another busy year for the research team at Cancer Research Wales and as the year draws to a close, we take this opportunity to take a look back on some the research highlights of 2019:

Over £1.5M pledged for new funding

Each year, we hope to build on the success of previous years and fund more ground-breaking cancer research around Wales. In 2019, we were pleased to announce a new funding pledge of over a million pounds throughout the year for projects. The new projects funded include the use of viruses to treat pancreatic cancers, a cancer type for which there is an urgent need for new treatments. The viral vectors that will be produced are modified in such a way that they are able to deliver a cargo of different anti-cancer agents directly to the cancer cells, whilst bypassing normal surrounding tissue.

This year we also invested in two new exciting projects for prostate cancer at Cardiff University.  Given the known limitations of PSA, the first project will seek to develop an improved blood test for the early detection of aggressive prostate cancers that require prompt treatment. The second study will see cancer researchers joining forces with arthritis researchers as together they seek to understand why and how prostate cancers uniquely spread to the bone.

Elsewhere, we funded several new projects in North Wales, including a Fellowship that will allow a trained clinical oncologist study for a PhD. It is hoped that this new funding initiative will help promote a research intensive environment within the Welsh NHS.


Primary care trial for early cancer diagnosis

The Think Cancer team based at the North Wales Primary Care Research Centre in Wrexham have received new funding from Cancer Research Wales, to undertake an ambitious trial that seeks to increase the number of referrals for suspected cases of cancer with greater accuracy. Since 90% of all cancer patients will first visit their GP with symptoms, primary care has a critical role to play in early diagnosis.

The new trial, due to start in 2020, will look to implement an evidence-based tool package, for primary care practitioners. The training modules have been carefully designed following pre-trial research, which worked with primary care staff to identify their needs in this area. It is hoped that practices which implement the intervention will see earlier and more accurate referrals, greater awareness of red-flag symptoms amongst all staff, and the introduction of a safety netting policy so that patients and test results can be followed up in a timely manner.


Wales Cancer Bank and ASTRA2 

During the formative years of the Wales Cancer Bank, Cancer Research Wales, along with Welsh Government was one of the major stakeholders, with over £2.5M invested. This year we were pleased to announce the continuation of this partnership with £100,000 funding for 4 projects that will use patient samples for the discovery of new ideas that have greater clinical relevance. We look forward to announcing the successful applicants of these grants in February.


Developing an all-Wales cancer research strategy

As both an independent Charity funding cancer research in Wales and as a representative for the Wales Cancer Alliance, we played an important role in the development of the first ever cancer research strategy for Wales this year. The strategy sets out a bold vision for cancer research across Wales and will help the many NHS organisations, Welsh Universities, and other stakeholders, to focus on areas of strength and need, in a more collaborative and co-ordinated way.  The 3 main domains represented include Clinical and Laboratory Research, Population Based Research, and Health Systems Research.  We look forward to seeing the final strategy launched in early 2020, which will help Wales once again become a true world leader in this rapidly developing field.  We promised to keep you informed at all steps along the way.


Wales Cancer Policy Forum and the Single Cancer Pathway

Cancer Research Wales was privileged to have been approached by the Westminster Policy Forum, to help consult on key subject matter for this important bi-annual event that took place in Cardiff in July. With the focus on the new single cancer pathway, a range of speakers from all areas of the cancer community – policy makers, clinicians, public health and researchers all provided important discussion as to what is needed to make the Single Cancer Pathway in Wales a success. Dr Lee Campbell from Cancer Research Wales spoke how research can play a big role help shape and streamline the Single Cancer Pathway to make it more efficient in delivering gold-standard health care.

Indeed, the first results of the Cancer Research Wales funded ICBP4 study in Wales, has helped identify some gaps which result in late diagnosis and treatment.  This vital information has been used by Professor Tom Crosby and the Wales Cancer Network to help design and develop important aspects of the Single Cancer Pathway. It has been calculated that if the best research can be incorporated in clinical practice then cancer outcomes will improve by around 30%. Therefore, through the avenue of research, we will continue to work closely with the Wales Cancer Network, and other policy makers, to ensure the people of Wales get the best treatment in a more-timely manner. You can read more about the single cancer pathway in our blog series from earlier in the year (click here for part one).


Diagnostic blood test for bowel cancer breaks new ground

Those of you who follow our research closely will be aware of the novel blood test that our funded scientists in Swansea are developing for the early diagnosis of bowel cancer. You can read more about the work in our interview with one of the researchers, Dr Cerys Jenkins (here).

This year the study reached new heights when the first phase of the primary care trial was reported.

Around 35 GP surgeries in Swansea and the surrounding area participated in the study and recruited patients who were sent for a colonoscopy for suspected bowel cancer according to current NICE guidelines. A sample of blood was taken from consenting patients and the result matched with the final results of the colonoscopy. It was found that of the 277 patients who were referred over the 9 month period of the study, 42% (114 people) could have avoided an unnecessary invasive procedure if the blood test had been used in the decision making processes within primary care.

Next year we look forward to Phase 2 of the primary care study, where this time around, GPs will be made aware of the test findings and allowed to refer for colonoscopy based upon the test result. Wales suffers from a real lack of endoscopy capacity and is a major reason why the country suffers from late cancer diagnosis, especially for bowel cancer. It is hoped this approach to improving diagnostic capacity in primary care will help increase the accuracy at which patients are sent to hospital for investigations.

In June we had the pleasure of inviting some of our supporters and local AM’s to the laboratories at Swansea to see first-hand how the work is developing.  They got to discover how advanced technology is being employed to transform how patients are diagnosed in a more simple, effective and prudent way. We would like thank all the research teams at Swansea for hosting this event which is always very informative and interesting.


Launch of Tom Walker Scholarship for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia

In the autumn, Cancer Research Wales, announced the launch of a named PhD studentship in memory of a very special boy, Tom Walker. Tom, was the youngest of 90 people who defied snowy conditions in March 2018 to tackle the Brecon Beacons Night Hike to raise vital funds for Cancer Research Wales. Less than three months later Tom was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia and tragically died the day after his diagnosis. Ever since Tom’s sudden death his family, friends and the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools’ community have been working tirelessly to raise over £100,000 for Cancer Research Wales. With some high quality grants received, we look forward to announcing the successful project sometime in Spring 2020.


We Said Goodbye to Our President

The year ended on a sad note as we said goodbye to our long-standing President and Trustee Professor John Moore. It is no exaggeration to say that Professor Moore was a true pioneer of cancer research in Wales. Working at Velindre Cancer Centre since the late 1960’s, Professor Moore very much led the way for translational research with a focus on the biological effects of radiotherapy on the biological response of tumours to this treatment. During his many years with the Charity, Professor Moore oversaw the building of the new research laboratories at Velindre and the appointment of Cancer Research Wales, Chair of Clinical Oncology. For more information on the long and distinguished career of Professor John Moore, please read our tribute to him posted earlier this month.


Looking Ahead

Pressing on into 2020 and a new decade, we will continue to strive towards the goal set before us – the attainment of better outcomes for cancer patients in Wales, through the avenue of world-class research. With this in mind, we are hopeful to be able to announce some new exciting and ambitious projects in 2020. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our wonderful supporters and volunteers for all the hard work and great generosity given once again this year.  Cancer Research Wakes wishes everyone a very happy and healthy 2020 and please do stay with us on this incredible journey. We couldn’t do it without you!