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CRUK teams up with US agency to tackle big challenges


Initiative will fund cancer research teams with £20m over five years

Cancer Research UK has promised to free researchers from the constraints of traditional funding schemes through a partnership with the US government’s main agency for cancer research

The charity is linking up with the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) to expand its existing Grand Challenge Initiative so it can offer large grants to multinational teams. CRUK said it expects to make around four awards for each round of the scheme it runs, with each award supporting a team with £20 million over five years, it said on 27 August.

The upgraded and now-transatlantic scheme will focus on specific, as yet undetermined, “critical roadblocks in research”. A number of possible challenges are under consideration, with the final set to be announced in October 2020.

The charity says it plans to fund three rounds of challenges over the next decade, with 8 or 9 challenges per round initially. The four strongest teams in each round will be given grants.

“Our partnership with NCI on Cancer Grand Challenges will unlock the possibility for our finest researchers to think beyond their most ambitious projects, free from the constraints of traditional incremental funding streams,” said CRUK chief executive, Michelle Mitchell.

“Covid-19 has delayed progress and impacted cancer patients everywhere, so it’s even more important for researchers to come together to tackle problems that are too big for any one institution and country.”

The announcement comes after CRUK confirmed plans to slash annual research expenditure following the devastating effect of Covid-19 on its fundraising income. This year, the charity is expecting to lose £160m in income—a fall of 30 per cent—and an estimated £300m drop over the next three years.

A total of seven teams have been funded since 2017 through the previous version of the initiative, which has seen work supported by CRUK in collaboration with other funders including the Dutch Cancer Society. 

Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute and chair of the Cancer Grand Challenges scientific committee, said the upgraded initiative would “allow the global research community to work in synergy” and bring together governments, philanthropists, foundations and charities “making it easier to put in place a united and international approach”.