On November 27, we joined Cancer Research UK at an event they held at the Senedd to celebrate the excellent research that is conducted in Wales. AMs were invited to speak first hand to researchers working across a variety of fields for the benefit of cancer patients in Wales and beyond. The event culminated with a series of talks from Health Minister Vaughan Gethin, AM Janet Finch Saunders, Executive Director of Policy Sarah Woolnough and researcher Dr Alan Parker.
Janet Finch-Saunders welcomed guests by saying:
Currently, around 50% of cancer patients survive, so I am sure you all will join with me in backing Cancer Research UK’s aim of seeing 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034.
This is no easy task. There are 200 types of cancer.
Here in Wales, the most prevalent are breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.
Breast Cancer has been a major concern for me as an Assembly Member representing constituents resident within Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
There is more the Welsh Government could do, such as:
Provide a target time from referral to the first clinic appointment
Ensure that we have the right cancer workforce with the right skills in place
And deliver a strategy for cancer research which sets ambitious priorities for Wales
Wales has a strong history of research into cancer.
The Bangor North West Cancer Research Institute has been using human cell lines to investigate tumour invasion and metastasis and to identify novel cancer markers that can be used in diagnostics and treatments; looking at mechanisms that maintain genome stability and thus prevent cancer; and collaborating with clinicians in Liverpool to improve treatment.
Prifysgol Aberystwyth investigated the novel idea of combining MRI and ultrasound results to give a more detailed initial map of where prostate cancer is present in the body.
And here in Cardiff the University has strengths covering the full spectrum of pre-clinical, translational and clinical research.
My point is that across Wales we are already trying to combat cancer, and have a platform where further work could flourish.
She then welcomed Sarah Woolnough to speak:
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Cancer Research UK, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the scale of the challenge and some of our work in Wales to achieve our ambition.
Given that one in two people in Wales will develop cancer in their lifetimes, we all know someone who has been affected by it. 40 years ago, around one in four patients survived their cancer. Today, two in four patients survive. This is an incredible achievement and we should all be proud. But that isn’t job done – our ambition is to see three in four patients in Wales survive their cancer by 2034.
We know that research is fundamental to achieving this. It’s fantastic to see some of the amazing research that is happening here in Wales. But what you see here today wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of Cancer Research UK’s incredible supporters and volunteers. Whether the money is raised at one of 26 Race for Life events; or given as a gift in a will - 80 pence out of every pound goes directly to beating cancer. Not to mention the £2.8 million raised in our shops across Wales.
Last year we spent £4 million on research in Wales. As you can see from our exhibitors today, Cancer Research UK supports the Centre for Trials Research at Cardiff University, the Cardiff Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, and 13 research nurses across Wales, co-funded with the Welsh Government. We are pleased to have awarded new grants in Wales recently, including for Dr Alan Parker’s work at Cardiff University on oncolytic viruses, which I am sure he will explain more later, as well as to Professor Paul Dyson and Dr Lee Parry of Swansea University on using a strain of salmonella to test for bowel polyps.
I’d like to congratulate Wales on its proud history of cancer research – it is here in Wales that Professor Alan Burnett led the UK national trials that transformed treatment for adult acute myeloid leukaemia, which is still used across the world. And it was Professor Malcolm Mason leading clinical trials that have improved treatment for men with prostate cancer.
I am confident, though, that our best days are still ahead of us. Wales’s size, population and health structure mean that it should be ideally suited for delivering high quality research – with clear benefits for people affected by cancer. But, last year, our report, Bench to Bedside, identified barriers to overcome in order to develop a world-class research environment in Wales. An uplift to QR funding for universities, as already recommended by the Reid and Diamond Reviews; an ambitious cancer research strategy; and increased capacity in the NHS and research workforce are just some of the things needed to enable Wales to deliver on its potential as a world leader in cancer research.
To improve cancer survival, we also need to ensure that the NHS in Wales is geared up to diagnosing cancers earlier, providing access to the best available treatments, and putting more focus on preventing cancers.
We know that the Welsh Government are moving in the right direction. Last month’s Healthy Weight: Healthy Wales strategy is an important milestone towards reducing overweight and obesity, which research has shown causes 1,000 cancers in Wales each year.
And the new Single Cancer Pathway is leading the UK in how we measure cancer waiting times, as well as acting as a driver for improvement in our diagnostic services. However, we know that, most critically, we need to ensure we have the right workforce in place to test and diagnose cancer, against a backdrop of rising demand. We look forward to seeing the forthcoming health and social care workforce strategy and hope that cancer and diagnostics will be a key priority.
As a nation, I believe it is critical that we ensure that the policy and political environment is supportive and encourages a world class research environment; priorities cancer prevention; and leads in early diagnosis and treatment. Only by working together will we see 3 in 4 people in Wales survive their cancer by 2034.