The secrets of one of the most aggressive but least understood type of cancers, sarcoma, are set to be unveiled in a major new research programme launched at No.10 Downing Street on 11 July.
Sarcoma UK’s new Genomic Research Programme will bring together the top minds in cancer research to find answers to the most fundamental questions about sarcoma. Relatively little is known about the cancer that is diagnosed in 15 people a day in the UK, and from which David Cameron’s former principle private secretary, Chris Martin, sadly passed away in November 2015.
Guests keen to support the launch at No.10 included the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock; BBC journalist and broadcaster, Zoe Conway, who was married to Chris Martin; broadcaster and columnist, Sali Hughes; athlete and Sarcoma UK Patron, Richard Whitehead MBE; patients, supporters, clinicians and several of the top sarcoma researchers in the UK.
It is hoped that the drive for further sarcoma genomics research will lead to better and more targeted treatments for sarcoma, as there are currently limited treatment options beyond surgery. As a cancer that accounts for 1.3% of all cancer cases in the UK, it does not currently receive that same proportion of research funding.
Prime Minister Theresa May said: 'All of us know someone who has experienced the devastating impacts of cancer, and Sarcoma UK has a profound connection with many at Downing Street. I’m honoured to support their vital work to shine a light on this rare form of cancer and improve the treatment available – transforming the lives of thousands of sufferers and their families. Improving early cancer detection and diagnosis is a key part of our long term plan for the NHS, which is one reason why research programmes such as these are so important.'
On the day that also saw the launch of NHS England’s sarcoma service specification, guidelines that will help improve the care sarcoma patients in England receive, Matt Hancock said: 'I am delighted to announce that last night, we published the first sarcoma service specification. It’s the first time that all sarcoma services will be commissioned to deliver the same level of care to patients across England. This government is making sure that a sarcoma patient will be diagnosed correctly and earlier, put onto the right pathway sooner, and will receive the best treatment by the people with the experience and expertise to do so.'
Richard Davidson, Chief Executive of Sarcoma UK, said that 'sarcoma is a neglected cancer when it comes to research. There’s so much we still don’t know about it, why it develops and how it spreads. It brings home why our relationship with No.10, which stemmed from Chris Martin’s untimely death, is so important. We are committed to fill the treatment vacuum for sarcoma which is devastating for patients and their families.'
At the start of 2019, Sarcoma UK invested a quarter of a million pounds in a piece of genomics research, involving 35 scientific experts from across the UK who are investigating 1,000 genetic samples collected from the 100,000 Genomes Project. Led by Professor Adrienne Flanagan from the UCL Cancer Institute, the Sarcoma Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnership (GeCIP) is investigating and cataloguing the breadth of variation in genetic mutations in sarcoma for the very first time. The data will also give researchers a valuable insight into how sarcoma develops resistance to drugs and treatments. Sarcoma UK aims to fund more projects like this through the genomics research programme in the coming years.
Any new understanding of the disease will be used to drive improvements in personalised treatments and targeted therapies for patients, and ultimately increase the chances of surviving sarcoma in the long term.