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Our Research Strategy

Because research will beat blood cancer.

Research is at the heart of what we do. Over the last 60 years, we have invested over £500 million in research and this has led to key discoveries that have changed lives. We believe it’s now possible to beat blood cancer in a generation.

- Gemma Peters, CEO of Blood Cancer UK

Our research strategy in summary

The millions of pounds we invest in world class research each year, is all thanks to Blood Cancer UK’s incredible community, many of whom are personally affected by blood cancer. Our shared goal is to beat blood cancer through research.

This research strategy sets out an overarching approach to our future research investment, and our short term priorities. These will always be guided by a focus on both impact, and what matters to people affected by blood cancer.

We will fund across a diverse portfolio, allowing us to take risks, respond to emergent opportunities and partner with others on common goals. This portfolio will include competitive project grant funding against a set of defined priorities.

We will also introduce a cross cutting scheme, that will allow us to support initiatives and research programmes across blood cancers.

Investing in partnership with other funders will facilitate greater impact from existing blood cancer research spend and bring new investment into blood cancer research.

Blood Cancer UK has had a strong track record in funding for early career researchers, and we will introduce a new fellowship scheme to support career development, to ensure the most talented researcher are supported to work in the blood cancer field.

Our vision & mission

We're here to beat blood cancer, and research will get us there.

Over the last 60 years we have proved that blood cancer research saves lives, but now we need to finish the job. We need to discover more about how blood cancers evolve, develop, and are best treated. We need treatments with fewer side effects and better outcomes for people affected by blood cancer. We want a world where we can predict how a disease will progress, so that we can stop blood cancer in its tracks. Because the more we understand it, the more lives we can save.

If cancer research were a comet, blood cancer research would be the brightest part at the leading edge. Many of the paradigm shifts in cancer research have come from research into blood cancer: chemotherapy, targeted therapies, CAR-T, etc.

- Chris Bunce, Professor of Translational Cancer Biology, University of Birmingham

Blood Cancer UK is the largest sole blood cancer research funder in the UK. Funding research which has an impact across all blood cancers is particularly important part of our strategy. Blood cancers are interconnected, as is the experience of people affected by blood cancer and the clinicians who treat them.

For example, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) can transform to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). We know from previous discoveries that new treatments in one blood cancer go on to work in others, for example CAR-T therapy.

It is also true that developments in blood cancer have benefited other cancers and biomedical science. In blood cancer, we’ve identified the “cancer stem cell” responsible for generating a stream of cancer cells and causing drug resistance. Many cancer researchers across the globe are now trying to find treatments that target these cells.

As Blood Cancer UK we will always put what matters to people affected by blood cancer first. We are in a unique position to bring together our community inculding researchers and health care professionals to invest in the best quality science that will lead to the advances in treatment and outcomes. Because we’re stronger together.

Nothing about us without us, to quote the well-known phrase. Being involved in this process has helped me understand just how important the patient voice is to Blood Cancer UK. We have been listened to at every step.

- Ally Boyle, diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in 2008

Our core strategic principles

Across our portfolio, Blood Cancer UK is committed to funding excellent quality scientific research that will improve our understanding of blood cancers, lead to the development of new treatments with fewer side effects and will ensure that more people survive. As a result of the research strategy development process, Blood Cancer UK will focus on doing five things:

  1. Working in partnership – We will actively seek to work with other charities, industry and partners who share common goals, in the UK and internationally.
  2. Driving innovation – our researcher and patient community will continue to shape our priorities. Our funding approach will be agile to enable us to respond to emerging opportunities.
  3. Facilitating collaboration/ multi-disciplinary research - there are many complex challenges in blood cancer research that will require ideas and expertise from multiple disciplines. We know a collaborative approach will be important in making a step change for people affected by blood cancer.
  4. Putting people affected by blood cancer at the heart of research – people affected by blood cancer have guided the development of this research strategy and we will continue to ensure their voice is central to our research.
  5. Working collaboratively with researchers – we will continue to work with researchers to make sure our priorities are in line with new discoveries and will have the biggest impact on people affected by blood cancer. It is critical the very best people work on blood cancer research and so we will invest in careers.

No one can predict the course of research, and as a result researchers need an avenue for funding that allows them to present innovative ideas, which might in turn uncover something ground-breaking.

- Tim Somervaille, Professor of Haematological Oncology, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute

Overview of our research portfolio

  • Prioritised Grant Funding Scheme
    Description: Applications will be considered by our funding committee of blood cancer research experts, leaders in their fields across a range of disciplines. Our decision making processes will also include people affected by blood cancer. Grants will be approved for funding where they demonstrate alignment with our priorities (page 9) and are of high scientific quality.
    Rationale: Enables us to continue to fund high quality projects, whilst allowing for scientific innovation, but prioritising identified areas.
  • Early Careers
    Description: Joint funding scheme with partner funder to support early career researchers.
    Rationale: Supports the future of blood cancer researchers, such as emerging group leaders.
  • Strategic Investment
    Description: Investment in specific and strategic research opportunities that have the potential to transform the lives of people with blood cancer
    Rationale: Blood Cancer UK is strategically positioned to connect donors and researchers.
  • Multidisciplinary Scheme
    Description: One funding call per year for multi-collaborative applications.
    Rationale: Encourages research across multiple blood cancers and supports collaboration and the formation of broader blood cancer research teams.
  • Funding Partnerships
    Description: Blood Cancer UK will join with other funders to strategically combine funding in areas of specific need. Most recently, we have done this to support vaccine effectiveness research.
    Rationale: Enables a specific scheme for partnership with other charities and funders, to encourage less duplication and target areas of need.

Working in partnerships is so important to make the most of the funding available and achieve more for patients.

- Irene Roberts, Professor of Paediatric Haematology, Oxford University

Our research priorities

We will prioritise three areas of research investment, within our competitive grant funding scheme.

1. Improving understanding of fundamental disease processes - including underlying areas such as disease origin, transformation, and relapse, so that we can better predict, and in the future prevent, blood cancer.

To continue making progress, we need to gain a deeper understanding of how and why blood cancer develops, evolves, becomes resistant to treatment, and returns in some patients. We need to understand more about the drivers of blood cancer such as blood cancer stem cells, the genetic basis of the disease and the mechanisms behind cancer progression. This research is a vital step in enabling us to develop new and more personalised treatment for people with blood cancer.

2. Improving treatment options for the individual - including personalised approaches and immunotherapies, resulting in improved survival with fewer side effects (due to less toxic treatments).

While many blood cancer treatments are successful in treating or controlling disease, many are toxic and can severely affect someone’s quality of life and leave them with long-term side effects. We need to change this. We also need to better predict who will respond and why to treatments. We want to use the knowledge we develop of the basic biology (priority 1) to help develop more personalised treatments. This is important to ensure everyone is on the most appropriate treatment for them as soon as possible and allow for a more stratified approach, which will result in better outcomes, with as few side effects as possible.

3. Developing novel approaches to the use of data - advancing our understanding through analysing large and rich data sets to facilitate benefits across blood cancers.

Data is vital to improving disease outcomes and connecting the dots across blood cancers. As data ever increases in complexity, so does its analysis. But through better analysis and linkage we can learn about similarities and differences between disease types. With this information we will be able to stratify treatment approaches or re-purpose drugs more efficiently. We will encourage applications that consider the use of large and richly layered data samples and/ or those which will help inform other studies approach to data. This may involve applicants linking with existing data sources such as National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), Haematological Malignancy Research Network (HMRN), or hubs like Health Data Research UK, making use of data already out there.

As someone living with and being treated for CLL, there will always be a constant worry in my mind about my blood cancer transforming into Richter’s syndrome, a much more aggressive form of blood cancer, with few treatment options.

- Kieron Mayes, diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) in 2009