Following Theresa May’s announcement this week of £75 million funding for research into prostate cancer, Dr Ian le Guillou takes a look at how government and charity funding work together and how your efforts to support research are critical to secure the big bucks needed for major breakthroughs.
We’ve always made it very clear that we don’t receive any money from the government for the research that we fund. All of the money we invest comes from our dedicated supporters. But that’s not to say we don’t work with government organisations to help boost the amount of funding for prostate cancer research.
The government has much deeper pockets than we do, but they also have a lot of competing priorities. With research, funding is normally awarded through competitive grant applications from a wide range of fields. The applications are reviewed by experts and judged on their quality and the evidence behind them. Unfortunately, if there hasn’t been much previous research, it can mean that some areas get left behind. In the early 1990s, we knew very little about prostate cancer – and that meant that new research couldn’t compete against more established fields. In 1998, the government spent just £47,000 on prostate cancer research.
This is where, thanks to our supporters, we were able to step in and fill the gap. Over the years, we have been able to transform our understanding of prostate cancer, paving the way for breakthroughs in the way we diagnose, treat and prevent prostate cancer.
Our Research Innovation Awards are a great example of this: radical ideas that can change the world, whether it’s vaccines, the effects of exercise or bacteria. Then once we’ve shown the potential, government funding can support the large-scale multi-million pound trials that will change clinical practice. That’s how our research programme can leverage lots more funding for prostate cancer.
Take our work on mpMRI. We funded a series of small grants to test the potential for using this exciting new technology to improve diagnosis. The evidence from these small studies allowed the researchers to successfully apply for £2 million in Government funding to test it in hundreds of men and prove how well it worked. It’s now being rolled out across the country and is already making a difference to men’s lives.
Our grant helped the researchers to get more funding from the Department of Health
One of our earliest research projects was into whether or not black men were at a higher risk of prostate cancer. Again, our initial grant helped the researchers to get more funding from the Department of Health for a larger study. That showed for the first time that black men in the UK were at least twice as likely to get prostate cancer, and has formed the basis for a lot of our awareness-raising work in this area.
Much of our research has dovetailed with government funding in a range of areas, including a new scan to see if treatment is working for cancer that has spread to the bone (£1.2 million), ways of using existing drugs to make the cancer more sensitive to radiation (£300k), and giving doctors training to do research (£250k).
Theresa May hasn’t confirmed yet where the £75 million she announced will be invested, so we'll be following this closely and will keep you updated. We've no doubt it will continue to build on the foundations that your support has already allowed us to create, but even if it's all spent wisely, sadly that won't be enough on its own. We estimate that we need to raise around £120 million to invest in research if we're going to reach our target of halving deaths from prostate cancer by 2026.
To help us achieve this, please donate online now.