“It’s a fantastic example of the spirit of collaboration”: Michelle Mitchell on a new era of cancer research in Manchester

Cancer Research UK

Inspired by a recent visit to Manchester following the launch of our new philanthropic campaign – ‘Re-write cancer’ – our Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell OBE, shares her thoughts on what makes the city a hotbed of innovation for cancer research  

I recently visited Manchester to meet with Mayor Andy Burnham to discuss the work we’re both doing in Greater Manchester, and to celebrate the amazing philanthropy that’s helping us make progress in the fight against cancer. Manchester has a legacy of innovation in the fields of science and engineering. It’s in Manchester that Dalton came up with his atomic theory, that Rutherford split the atom and that Chadwick discovered the neutron – all discoveries that helped pave the way for modern radiotherapy, which Manchester researchers helped develop.

This tradition of scientific innovation persists in Manchester today, and it’s still an incredibly important part of UK cancer research. As well as The Christie Hospital, it’s home to one of our four core-funded research Institutes, and the Manchester Cancer Research Centre – a joint venture between ourselves, The Christie and the University of Manchester.

I’m excited about how much more we could achieve through collaboration in Manchester

Manchester is also unique for its approach to healthcare, where in many areas it’s acting as a trailblazer. This is thanks to its spirit of collaboration, strong local leadership and the devolution agreement, which means it has greater control over health spending. Last year, we supported more than £28m-worth of cutting-edge research across the city.

Looking to the future, I’m excited about how much more we could achieve through collaboration in Manchester – despite a major setback to our research. In 2017, the Paterson building which housed one of our cancer research facilities suffered a devastating fire. More than 300 of our scientists and support staff were displaced and years of research were destroyed.

But from the ashes, the partnership between ourselves, The Christie and the University of Manchester is set to raise a phoenix: the severely damaged and outdated building will be replaced with a research facility twice the size of the previous one and filled with state-of-the-art equipment. We want to rebuild our new facility into a unique new collaborative space where scientists, researchers and patients can combine forces to change the face of cancer research. We have a bold goal, to double the number of patients who are offered access to a clinical trial.

We’re delighted to be collaborating on this. We couldn’t do it alone, and Greater Manchester is well-placed to be the trailblazer: local healthcare leaders here have the appetite to explore new ideas and approaches, and the commitment to testing them. It’s a fantastic example of the spirit of collaboration – which is important to me, is at the core of our philosophy at Cancer Research UK, and at the heart of Greater Manchester’s approach to cancer.

I was thrilled to meet the Warburton family recently, whose kind support over the past five years has been instrumental in developing Manchester into a powerhouse of cancer research. We’re incredibly grateful for the family’s personal support of our new philanthropic campaign, ‘Re-write cancer’, and the incredible fundraising of their staff. 

Manchester is a city that’s always had a special place in my heart. I was at university there in the 1990s, studying economics and, much to my mum’s chagrin, learning how to use a washing machine for the first time. Visiting the city is even more exciting now that I can see the brilliant research and innovation taking place in this great city, benefiting people with cancer in Manchester, but also all around the UK. And through this new facility, together we can do even more.