Our research strategy

  1. Our Vision
  2. Early Diagnosis Research
  3. Cancers of Unmet Need
  4. Basic Understanding of Cancer
  5. Develop Future Leaders
  6. Cancer Prevention
  7. Therapeutic Innovation
  8. Precision Medicine
  9. Accelerate Translation
  10. Encourage Collaboration
  11. New Funding Schemes



    Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

    Over the last 40 years, cancer survival rates in the UK have doubled. In the 1970s just a quarter of people survived. Today that figure is half.

    Our ambition is to accelerate progress and see three quarters of patients surviving the disease within the next 20 years.

    This requires us to set an ambitious new agenda for cancer research and substantially increase our investment. Our Research Strategy, launched in 2014, outlines how we will pioneer new approaches and bringing new disciplines to bear on the cancer problem.

    A message from our CEO Harpal S Kumar

    Video of Overview

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    We will substantially increase our investment to support the earlier diagnosis of cancer, investing over £20M a year in this area by 2019



    Diagnosing cancer at an earlier stage offers the greatest potential for transformational improvements in patient outcomes. Investment in early diagnosis research has been limited in the UK and internationally making this an important area of focus for the future.

    10 year relative survival for colorectal cancers (%)*

    Stage One
    Stage Two
    Stage Three
    Stage Four

    Stage at diagnosis

    *Source: The National Cancer Registration Service Eastern Office, Year of diagnosis 1996-2000

    A patient diagnosed with stage I lung
    cancer has over

    chance of survival beyond one year. This drops to less than 15% if diagnosed at stage IV.

    Hear from our Chief Scientist Nic Jones on why early diagnosis is so important

    Video of Early diagnosis research


    We will drive a major shift in research effort by stimulating interest in the research community, by building capacity and expertise and through targeted investment.

    Increase focus

    We will build interest and capacity in pre-disease and early-disease biology research such as inflammation, tumour microenvironment and host response.

    Strengthen investment

    We will increase our funding towards biomedical research efforts to identify new markers for early detection and invest in ways to translate them into viable diagnostic tests and screening programmes.

    Find out how we're already collaborating with Abcodia to develop early diagnosis tests

    Every 1% increase in cancers diagnosed at stages I or II could mean 1200 more patients are alive five years after diagnosis.
    Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald “Earlier diagnosis is the most promising approach to improve long-term survival of patients with cancer. Research in this area has been revitalised by improvements in technologies to isolate and characterise genomic, proteomic and other biomarkers that correlate with cancer”
    Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, MRC Cancer Cell Unit, University of Cambridge

    Improve screening

    We will support research to better understand behaviours related to screening uptake in different segments of the population.

    Build capacity

    We will develop a critical mass of people working in early detection research, including a concentration of multidisciplinary expertise.

    NAEDI partnership

    Working through the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI), we will support work to promote the earlier diagnosis of cancer, for example understanding barriers to early GP presentation.

    Find out more about NAEDI

    Sample collections

    We will invest in cohort studies and sample collections to support early detection research.

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    We will dramatically increase our effort in lung, pancreatic, oesophageal cancers and brain tumours, increasing our investment two- to threefold over the next five years



    Survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years, but progress has not advanced equally for all forms of the disease. Outcomes for Lung, pancreatic, oesophageal cancers and brain tumours have improved little in the past decade, making focusing on these cancers a key priority for the years ahead.

    Lung cancer is responsible for

    1 in 5
    cancer deaths

    Rare cancers make up

    of all cancer diagnoses making them more widespread than any single common cancer

    We support

    of all children's cancer trials, making us the major funder of childhood cancer research

    10 year net increase survival for selected cancers (%)

    : Hear from our Chief Clinician Peter Johnson how we will tackle these cancers

    Video of Cancers of unmet need


    We are making targeted investments to build leadership, training and facilitate better networking to improve the quality and quantity of research into these cancers.

    Increase capacity

    We are increasing the focus on lung, pancreatic, oesophageal cancers and brain tumours within our Centres and Institutes.

    Target our investment

    We are now prioritising these cancers within our existing funding streams to grow their competitive share of funding over time.

    We're already funding one of the largest ever studies of lung cancer.

    Read about the £14 million, UK wide study called TRACERx.

    Professor Charles Swanton “I hope we will see the fastest developments in tumours that are hardest to treat and have shortest median survival, like advanced oesophageal cancer and lung cancers - a rapid turnaround of data and expansion of clinical trials available for these tumour types should provide measurable benefit quite quickly.”
    Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK London Research Institute

    New infrastructure

    In 2014, we established the Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence at the University of Manchester and UCL to build the capacity and quality of lung cancer research in the UK.

    Visit the CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence website.

    Boost research

    We plan to increase our research effort on childhood and youth cancers and in rare cancers. Although cancer in children is rare, it is still the most common cause of death.

    We'll continue supporting the International Rare Cancers Initiative

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    We will continue to invest heavily to better understand what causes and drives cancer, including through the establishment of the Francis Crick Institute



    Investing in deepening our understanding of the disease is the only way to open up new opportunities to discover and develop new and better treatments.

    In 2013 we spent around

    on research into the fundamental biology that underpins all cancers.


    We will continue to invest a significant proportion of our overall budget to strengthen this area. We will support the investigation of fundamental processes where there is a clear link to tumour biology.

    Francis Crick Institute

    We are a founding partner in the Francis Crick Institute, which opened in 2016 to provide new multidiscipinary approaches to understand and tackle cancer in a world class setting.

    Take a virtual tour of the Francis Crick building

    Develop Institutes

    We are developing our core-funded Institutes, enabling them to take a long-term approach to addressing the challenges in cancer research.

    More about our Institutes

    Harpal S Kumar “We are proud to be a founding partner of the world-class centre for interdisciplinary medical sciences. The Francis Crick Institute will have the vision, scale and expertise to tackle challenging scientific questions underpinning cancer.”
    Harpal S Kumar, CEO Cancer Research UK

    Strengthen investment

    We have significantly increased our response mode funding to discovery science by investing in our existing funding schemes and launching a series of new schemes.

    Find out more about our new funding schemes

    Focus on immunology

    We are increasing our investment in cancer immunology, taking steps to attract leading immunology researchers to work in the cancer field.

    Our new cancer immunology funding scheme

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    We need your input to ensure our Research Strategy evolves in the best way.

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  • Develop future leaders

    We will support and develop the very best researchers, at all stages of their careers



    We need to ensure there is a wealth of highly-trained, world class researchers who can continue to work towards our vision of beating cancer.

    Each year we spend over

    On training and career development, helping to develop research leaders of tomorrow.

    Harpal S Kumar tells why people are at the heart of CRUK's strategy

    Video of Develop future leaders


    We will provide support at every career stage, training outstanding individuals and developing or recruiting the next generation of leaders in cancer research.

    Invest in people

    In 2015, we launched a new funding scheme to support mid-career scientists.

    Our new Programme Foundation Award

    Bridge skills-gaps

    We will build capacity and train specialists in areas where there is a skills gap, such as molecular pathology and the application of mathematics to cancer.

    “The UK is an outstanding environment for training and nurturing the cancer researchers of the future. Through its existing and new awards along the career pathway, Cancer Research UK is leading the way in researcher development, providing an essential platform for future progress.”
    Professor Margaret Frame, Director Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre

    Build clinical expertise

    We will find ways to attract, develop and retain clinician scientists in cancer research.

    Learn about current funding opportunities for clinicians

    In 2013 we funded 14 new fellows. These include early-career researchers setting up their research groups for the first time, as well as clinicians committed to combining an academic research career with their existing clinical role.

    Support our researchers

    We give support in the form of career advice, workshops and training events, providing development opportunities and peer group networking meetings.

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    We will increase our investment in prevention research, including a new centre to support long term reduction in cancer incidence and continued work on tobacco control



    More than 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK are attributed to lifestyle and environmental factors. Although we now understand the main preventable risk factors for the disease, achieving large-scale behaviour change remains a huge challenge that we need to address.

    Number of cancers linked to lifestyle factors

    & Obesity

    Selected lifestyle factors estimated UK 2011

    Source: Parkin, The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010, British Journal of Cancer (2011) 105, S2 – S5

    Smoking, unhealthy diets, alcohol
    and excess weight together cause more than

    cancer cases in the UK each year


    A key area of our strategy will involve bringing together epidemiology, health economics, and policy research to tackle the challenge of cancer prevention.

    Tackle tobacco use

    We will lead an ambitious and coordinated research agenda to reduce the number of people smoking and influence tobacco control on the global stage.

    Find out more about our policy work on tobacco control

    Reduce cancer risk

    Working with experts from other fields, we design and evaluate novel interventions to change behaviour in key areas of cancer risk.

    Read about some of the projects funded through our Cancer Prevention Innovation Grants

    “We have a strong body of evidence on the key risk factors associated with cancer and the relative importance of different preventative interventions. Now we need to take full advantage of this insight, identifying new apparoaches to empower people to reduce their risk”
    Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London

    Stratified approaches

    We support research that seeks to apply combined genetic, lifestyle and phenotypic markers to more accurately define risk in key populations, in order to develop targeted prevention or early detection strategies.

    Invest across the board

    With our Cancer Prevention Initiative we have launched new fellowships, seed funding for innovation and a virtual policy research centre in partnership with the BUPA Foundation.

    Read more about our Cancer Prevention Initiative

    Develop chemopreventive strategies

    We will play a unique role in supporting the next generation of clinical and pre-clinical studies of aspirin and other chemopreventive agents.

    Find aspirin trials we're already supporting

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    We will continue to discover and develop new therapeutics, surgery and radiotherapy treatments, quickening the pace at which research is translated into patient benefits



    Cancer is a complex set of diseases and our approach to therapeutic innovation must therefore cover a breadth of modalities, including drugs, radiotherapy and surgery. New approaches that combine these treatments, could bring enormous benefits for patients.

    4 in 10
    patients cured will have radiotherapy as part of their treatment.

    Every year

    people take part in treatment trials we support.


    To deliver novel, more effective treatments we will support sophisticated new approaches, mechanisms and methods. As well as discovering and developing new drugs, we will continue to improve surgery and radiotherapy treatments.

    Realise therapuetic potential

    We are making significant investments in therapeutic discovery and development across all modalities, including small-molecule drugs and a range of biotherapeutic approaches.

    Explore our new funding schemes and supporting infrastructure for drug discovery

    Invest in radiotherapy

    We will support continued growth in radiobiology and radiotherapy research.

    Read our vision for radiotherapy

    “Our ambition in cancer drug development is to redefine how cancer is treated and to accelerate the delivery of the next generation of medicines to patients who need them. Academic research plays a critical role in this, with new models of interaction between academia and industry driving ever faster progress”
    Dr Susan Galbraith, Astrazeneca

    Develop surgical technology

    We will continue to support innovation through surgery research.

    Read our blog post on how we need to develop surgical research.

    Target the 'un-druggable'

    We will support renewed efforts to find drugs against high-risk, high-potential targets that could benefit a broad range of patients.

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    We will optimise the chance of survival for every individual, through precision medicine approaches



    Personalised medicine is increasingly recognised as the future of cancer therapy, but many questions remain to be answered before it can benefit therapeutic choices in real time.

    We need to harness our understanding of how

    every patient and their cancer is different
    to identify those most likely to benefit

    Tumour samples from

    patients have been tested through our Stratified Medicine Programme


    We are taking practical steps towards a model where patient treatment decisions are made on an individual basis, both at the initiation of treatment and at the point of recurrence to make precision medicine a reality in the UK.

    Understand tumour evolution

    We are supporting research to understand and monitor how cancers evolve over time.

    Read about our TRACERx cancer evolution study

    Invest in experimental medicine

    We are supporting more experimental medicine studies through our network of ECMCs, Centres and through our extensive clinical trials portfolio.

    Our new experimental medicine funding scheme

    Caroline Dive “The biggest game changer I’ve seen in my 24 years in cancer research has been the development of targeted therapies. With the predictive biomarker in hand, you know if someone has a particular molecular defect in a tumour and you can say they have a very high chance of responding to a therapy.”
    Caroline Dive, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute

    Biomarker discovery

    We will ensure that the required capability and capacity to perform robust biomarker discovery and validation exists to translate the discovery of new biomarkers into changes in clinical practice.

    Therapeutic combinations

    We are building our understanding of how combination treatments could be used and which patients would benefit the most.

    Read about the ECMC Combinations Alliance

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    We will invest heavily in Centres as a world class network for the translation of cancer research for patient benefit



    Our investment in research will only achieve our objectives if it can be translated into new therapeutics, diagnostics and approaches to treatment. Traditional barriers between clinical and basic research can be a barrier progress.

    We will invest

    across our world-leading Centres network over the first 3 years of the strategy

    We currently support more than

    clinical trials across the UK.


    We will address a range of areas to support translation, including establishing the right leadership, forming effective partnerships and investing in access to technologies.

    Build capacity

    We will invest in our Centres in order to provide an excellent environment for multidisciplinary collaboration and to develop the capacity and infrastructure needed to support delivery of our strategy.

    Our 15 Centres form a national network to deliver world-class research, improved patient care and greater local engagement.

    Find out more

    Centres of excellence

    We have built substantial capacity at selected Centres to enable them to make a step-change in their delivery of exceptional translational research.

    “Through its network of cancer Centres across the UK, Cancer Research UK and its partners have created a world-leading model for the translation of new discoveries into patient benefit.”
    David Livingston, Dana-Farber Center

    Strengthen investment

    We have increased trial funding via our Clinical Research Committee and New Agents Committee to ensure that we can support a broad portfolio of clinical research

    More about our clinical research opportunities

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    We will encourage collaborative approaches, by increasing international partnership and involving non-traditional cancer disciplines, including engineering and physical sciences



    Solving the challenges of cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment will require multidisciplinary collaboration, delivering innovation by bringing multiple perspectives to bear on the cancer challenge.

    We support a UK-wide network of researchers and infrastructure to deliver world-class research including:

    Cancer Medicine
    Clinical Trials
    Cancer Imaging


    Networking across the UK and beyond will be critical to achieving maximum impact from our investment. We will further integrate our activity, continuing to build a highly functioning network for cancer research.

    Encourage collaboration

    We have launched new funding schemes and increased support for networking, to foster greater levels of collaboration across the UK research community.

    Find out more about our new multidisciplinary research funding schemes

    Innovative approaches

    We will encourage non-traditional cancer disciplines, such as the engineering and physical sciences, to contribute to the cancer research effort.

    “What excites me most about research is the integration of maths, computing, patient care and biology. Bringing all these disparate things together is challenging, but it is exciting to have all that information at your fingertips - I feel like I am learning every day”
    Professor Andrew Biankin, Director of Translational Research Centre, University of Glasgow

    Expand partnerships

    We partner with international organisations and those in other countries, ensuring that cancer is tackled on the global stage.

    Cancer Research UK offers many advantages to potential partners.

    Find out how

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    We will significantly increase our investment through funding committees and will invest up to £50M a year in new funding schemes



    In order to effectively meet our objectives we need to welcome new ideas and innovation. We need to remain flexible to respond to new opportunities and we need to nurture the development of the best minds to tackle these challenges.

    We support more than

    researchers, doctors and nurses throughout the UK

    Hear about some of our exciting new funding opportunities

    Video of New funding schemes


    We will invest in new funding schemes to support world-class research that will enable us to meet our ambitions.

    Strengthen existing funding

    We are significantly increasing investment in our existing funding schemes across all areas of the portfolio.

    Invest in innovation

    Our new Pioneer Award supports innovation, investing in new ideas and approaches to tackling cancer challenges.

    Find out how to apply

    Iain Foulkes “It is vital that we support every career stage and fund transformational areas of research, if we’re going to be able to tackle the major challenges in cancer research.”
    Iain Foulkes, Executive Director Cancer Research UK

    Support collaboration

    Our new Multidisciplinary Project Award stimulates collaborations between biomedical research and the engineering and physical sciences.

    Find out how to apply

    Address big questions

    We initiated our largest ever funding scheme, the £20 million Grand Challenge, to support research into important, challenging questions where there is potential for a transformational impact on cancer.

    Explore the toughest challenges in cancer research and the teams hoping to take them on

    Invest in people

    Our new Programme Foundation Award supports mid-career researchers, to ensure we are able to support scientists at all career stages.

    Find out how to apply

    Boost immunology research

    Our new Cancer Immunology Project Award builds interest in tumour immunology within the wider immunology research community.

    Find out how to apply

    Strategic awards

    We have launched a new award for our Centres, the Network Accelerator Award, to promote networking and provide infrastructure in strategic priority areas.

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