Growing stronger in fight against breast cancer

A bold and positive step forward for science and those diagnosed with breast cancer. Picture: PA

A bold and positive step forward for science and those diagnosed with breast cancer. Picture: PA

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Together we will conquer breast cancer, says James Jopling

They say that doing the right thing is not always easy. This month in particular, I know this to be the case, as it marks the start of an exciting new era for breast cancer research in this country, with Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign formally merging to create the UK’s largest dedicated funder of breast cancer research.

Charities often start from the commitment of individuals, and Breakthrough was no different. Thanks to the vision of one man, Bill Freedman, Breakthrough Breast Cancer was formed to create the UK’s first centre entirely dedicated to breast cancer research. From that success the charity expanded into new research programmes across the country, including a number in Scotland. It became clear in recent months that by joining with Breast Cancer Campaign, also a research charity, the two could do even more for those affected by breast cancer.

This is a bold and positive step forward for science, the research community and, most importantly, the 4,600 Scots diagnosed with breast cancer every year. We will make more progress, more quickly as one charity. We can speak with a louder voice alongside all those affected by the disease, and make the strongest possible case for everyone to be given routine access to the best treatments wherever they live. I’ve met too many women with incurable secondary breast cancer who are running out of options and running out of time. Our new charity will be able to do more to help them and those diagnosed in the future.

It’s very rare in science that big discoveries just happen overnight. Research just doesn’t really work like that; it’s much more an incremental process, involving smaller findings from a lot of different labs. This collaborative environment is the cornerstone of good research and without it we would be missing some of the biggest advances in medical research. Our merger offers an opportunity for new and exciting collaborations across Scotland, the rest of the UK and internationally, ultimately bringing more new treatments to women that need them.

But there are also differences between the way our two charities work that, once combined, will make us more effective. Breakthrough and Breast Cancer Campaign both have different methods of funding; Breakthrough is funding six pretty sizeable research grants in four different locations, while Campaign supports over 80 research grants, both large and small, at a wider range of academic locations across the UK and Ireland. Each method has its advantages, and it will be fantastic to see them integrated into a comprehensive research strategy, dedicated to stopping women dying from breast cancer.

In Scotland, this opens up the opportunity to fund a greater breadth of research. The new charity will be funding grants right across the country, including research programmes in Glasgow, Stirling, Edinburgh and Dundee.

We’ve seen from the success of Cancer Research UK – now with an income around four times more than either of the two charities that came together in 2001 to form the largest charity in the UK – that this approach can really work. It can work for scientists and for patients, providing an increased understanding of the disease that still kills over 1,000 women every year in Scotland alone.

We know the new charity will only be able to spend more money on research with the support of more people right across the country. We need the support of everyone who has backed Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough over the years to continue, and even more will need to join us if we are to increase investment into the best breast cancer research.

It’s an incredible time to be part of these two charities and there is a serious amount of work going on to make this happen. But this merger is for only one purpose; to reduce the impact of breast cancer on the thousands of people across Scotland, and the UK, who live with a diagnosis of the disease. We are well on the way to making this happen, with the recent announcement of Baroness Delyth Morgan as the new chief executive, and Lynne Berry OBE as the new chair.

By uniting the brightest minds, striving to increase funding for research and driving more discoveries, the day we finally stop breast cancer is closer than ever. This will by no means be easy. But it can be done. United, we will stop people dying from breast cancer.

James Jopling, is director of Scotland, Breakthrough Breast Cancer – breakthrough.org.uk

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