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Funding lifesaving research

Over the last 60 years, we have shown that blood cancer research saves lives, and the £500 million we have invested has helped radically transform treatments.

Survival rates have improved dramatically over the last few decades, and even over the last 10 years we have seen blood cancer survival rates increase faster than survival rates for other cancers.

This year, investing in life-saving research remained at the heart of our work, as we announced £6.5 million of new research funding in line with our strategic plans. This money was spread across 15 projects, and means we are now supporting the work of 169 researchers at 30 research institutions.

This included a series of projects focussed on acute myeloid leukaemia, which has one of the poorest outcomes. The researchers will identify better treatment targets, test the potential for repurposing existing drugs and develop new ways to predict which patients will respond to current treatments. We are also funding research that will look at how a key gene drives cancer development in children with Down’s syndrome.

Two lymphoma teams will look at the role of the Epstein Barr Virus in the development of lymphomas, one focusing on lymphomas and other blood cancers that develop as a result of treatment in people who have had an organ transplant. We also funded new research in myeloma that will look at how myeloma develops and how patients respond to immunotherapies.

Thanks to research we previously funded, there were 117 papers published in scientific journals during 2019/20. These papers covered a wide range of science, from laboratory research to clinical trials, and covered the full range of blood cancers. Each of those papers represents an increase in our understanding, and so a small step towards our ultimate goal of beating blood cancer.

As well as improving our understanding, our research is benefitting people with blood cancer right now. Because of our clinical trials, more than 5,000 people are getting the chance to have access to promising new treatments not yet available on the NHS.

The highlights of our research during 2019/20 included:

  • Researchers at the University of Sussex have developed a new test that can predict how people with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) will respond to treatment. It could give doctors the ability to pick treatments better tailored to the individual person.
  • By looking into how cancer genes communicate with each other, researchers at the University of Manchester found that targeting two genetic changes could potentially improve treatment for some people with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
  • Researchers at Newcastle University, funded by us and Children with Cancer UK, have developed a new way of identifying which children with leukaemia are likely to see their cancer return. This research could mean some children being spared unnecessary treatment, which can have serious side-effects, and that children get more intensive treatment if they need it.
  • Researchers at the University of Leeds updated on the results of a clinical trial that showed that nine out of 10 people with CLL responded well to being treated with ibrutinib and venetoclax, and over half were already in complete remission after a year of treatment. This treatment combination could offer an effective alternative to chemotherapy, reducing side-effects and leading to more people living longer.
  • Researchers partly funded by us at Stanford in the United States and the University of Tokyo developed a new technique for growing stem cells. While still in its early stages, the breakthrough could allow for more stem cells to be successfully transplanted, potentially leading to safer and more effective stem cell treatments.

We were also delighted to see Professor Adele Fielding, a member of our Research Committee, elected as the next President of the British Society of Haematology. We have funded Adele since 1993, and she is an example of how our focus on supporting the careers of young researchers can pay huge dividends for blood cancer research.