Today it was my privilege to be the invited speaker at a local event raising funds for Cancer Research UK, our leading cancer research charity in the UK. I picked on work that is currently in the news (not work I am involved in personally). Try this excellent lay person’s summary from the CR-UK website http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/04/18/increasing-the-resolution-on-breast-cancer-the-metabric-study/. This illustrates so many points.
At its heart was an international collaboration dissecting the molecular events underpinning breast cancer. This depended on the painstaking building of tissue collections. It linked these to patients’ data. Analysis coupled these to high-throughput assays and statistical methods capable of handling so many data. The result was reclassification of this disease into 10 subtypes with different outcomes. So the molecular signature impacted on prognosis. Understanding this may lead to new treatments. This is the foundation of what is now called stratified or personalised medicine: the recognition at a fundamental level of the individuality of a patient, a cancer and a treatment plan.
Cancer Research UK is building the infrastructure for more work like this through its Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres and the Stratified Medicine Programme across the UK.
I also talked about the politics of cancer science, partly in response to an earnest question about the iniquities of the pharmaceutical industry.
I believe that scientific research and understanding are at the heart of what it is to live in a free, accountable and democratic country. Charitable and public funding create the framework for transparency and peer review and spread of excellent information to non-specialists. Science thrives on challenge. Publicly funded cancer research identify and address patients’ needs, balancing the drive for profits in industry. These values are the core of what makes good science, the very opposite of arbitrary authority, domination by the wealthy, dogma and the rote learning of an accepted canon.
Without public and charitable money, research would all be owned by the pharmaceutical industry. In partnership, industry is harnessed to need. What is being done here is a quiet revolution: in the terms of the day, a Cancer Spring.