‘5 in 5’ with Alison Howe

Cancer Research UK

With a degree in pharmacology and a career in clinical research and then pharmaceuticals, Alison Howe realised early on that supporting medical research could help achieve great things. Then a cancer diagnosis motivated her to explore making a legacy gift. Now, her support goes far beyond her generous pledge. To find out more, Joanna Lewin takes five with the Founder and former Managing Director of medical education company, Strategic Consultants International.

  1. What does philanthropy mean to you?

In its simplest terms, it means giving to a cause that’s a force for good in society. And that doesn’t necessarily mean financially, because your time, expertise and voice can be important too. I used to be very business oriented – all my energy went into my company – but when you start to participate in something bigger than business and have an opportunity to contribute, it resets your focus.

  1. Which areas of cancer research excite you most?

Personalised treatments are very promising – that’s one area that really has changed since I was in the pharmaceutical industry. Back then, we didn’t have the ability to tailor treatments to individual needs. Now, with research into genetics and DNA profiling, treatments are being developed that are much more purposed. And that means they can be far more effective and lead to fewer side effects.

  1. What’s been a highlight in your six years supporting us?

I’ve been exposed to many different areas of the charity and I’ve enjoyed it all. Sitting on the New Investigator and Clinical Careers committees has been a particular highlight. These research awards are prestigious and hotly contested, so the winners really are those on a trajectory to being outstanding scientists. Another highlight has been mentoring female clinical fellows. I think women can have a tough time in academia – we offer career advice in a confidential space.

  1. How did your journey with CRUK begin?

During my career, I worked on the development of a couple of landmark drugs and I saw first-hand how a well-purposed treatment could change a person’s quality of life. I distinctly remember thinking that if I ever had the resources and the capital, it would be great to contribute to medical research. Then, about six years ago, I retired because I was diagnosed with cancer. I sold my shares in the company I founded, which allowed me to start making annual donations, and I planned a legacy gift focused on funding clinical fellows.

  1. What does the future of cancer research look like?

As well as advances in immunotherapy and personalised medicine, I think more research into metastatic (secondary) cancer could transform the field. A lot of work is being done on the primary disease, but cancer tends to recur and you often can’t re-use the same treatment. You need a plan B. In the long term, cancer research will mean more people are able to live with the disease – it won’t be something terminal. There are plenty of success models around, the major progress we’ve seen in treating HIV being one. One day, we’ll achieve that for cancer patients.

Joanna Lewin is Philanthropy & Partnerships Communications Manager and Editor at Cancer Research UK