Last week the Chancellor delivered his first Autumn Budget of this Parliament, but what does it mean for our brain tumour community? Researchers have faced the challenge of chronic underfunding for decades with successive governments letting brain tumour patients and their families down for too long.
Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.
Last Wednesday the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond MP, announced £2.3 billion of extra investment for science and innovation to be made in the year 2021/22. It is reported that this represents the biggest ever increase in research and development investment. What will be important is to understand how much will be targeted towards less common cancers with very low survival rates such as brain tumours?
UK Government’s Industrial Strategy
The Government has since published its proposals for a new Industrial Strategy, Brain Tumour Research responded to their consultation on these plans earlier this year. Their plans include a new deal for the life sciences sector and the announcement of new pharmaceutical centres being established in the UK. This is positive news, as a larger medical research industry will help to develop greater resources and infrastructure from which brain tumour researchers could one-day benefit.
The new strategy also includes specific initiatives that could benefit researcher’s work including the Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP) which aims to find solutions to the major healthcare challenges of the next 20 years, while also creating new UK industries. The creation of these partnerships that require the collaboration of all types of funding partners, from charities such as ours to Governments is critical to everyone helping to fund the fight, and to find a cure.
As part of the Government’s new embrace of innovative technology, the Chancellor also set out his ambition to establish the UK as a world leader in new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), life sciences and immersive technology. This could one day help to develop cutting edge tools that help scientists and clinicians in overcoming the unique challenges of brain tumours, such as delivering drugs through the blood brain-barrier (BBB).
On the big issue of the NHS, Philip Hammond applauded the fact that more patients are being treated than ever before, and that cancer survival rates are at their highest ever level. Progress has been made for some but less than 20% of brain tumour patients survive beyond five years of their diagnosis. Compare this with a survival rate of 86% for breast cancer and 51% for leukaemia patients and there is much more to do for our community.
So, although there were no big cash announcements that we can hook directly to achieving progress with brain tumours (though there is much to welcome relating to the NHS and R&D), the Government has recently confirmed, through a parliamentary debate on DIPG brain tumours, that we can expect the publication of the Task and Finish Working Group report on brain tumour research before Christmas.
Brain Tumour Research has taken a leading role working closely with the other partners involved in the process and we look forward to hearing how the challenges for our sector can be overcome through a partnership of Government, charities and our research community, irrespective of what the budget has put forward. This is where our hopes lie for the greatest push on progress around brain tumours.
Accounting for the impacts of Brexit featured heavily in the Budget with the Chancellor confirming changes to immigration rules. These changes should enable world-leading scientists, researchers and talented students to study and work within sectors such as ours. Delivering world-class neuro-oncology care today and improved survival rates tomorrow is possible by attracting and retaining world-class researchers, skilled technicians and healthcare professionals.
Budget weeks are always full of announcements that at first sound exciting but the devil is always in the detail. We will monitor their progress and hold the Government to account in ensuring they invest more in brain tumour research. Together will we find a cure.