New Initiatives Introduced For Brain Tumour Research Funding

Gamma Knife surgery - male oncologist holding an X ray image

A new package of research funding for brain tumours has been announced, and it is intended to boost new initiatives into developing better research and treatments. The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) reports that the suite of initiatives is the largest ever combined package of the kind.

The funding is part of the government’s £40m investment into developing new treatments for brain tumours and improving patient care. However, The Brain Tumour Charity points out that the funding was originally announced in 2018, following the untimely death of Dame Tessa Jowell from the condition.

The new funding announcement is jointly led by the NIHR and the Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission (TJBCM), and comes after an inquiry and consultation sessions between the government, researchers, charities, and the wider brain tumour community. 

An investigation found that six years after the death of Dame Tessa Jowell, only £15m of the allocated £40m had been spent. This led to an all-party parliamentary inquiry into the allocation of the funds, and to assess the progress made so far. 

The inquiry found that there was too much focus on funding the later parts of the research process, when potential new treatments are developed.

NIHR told the inquiry that so little of the funding had been allocated for research because they received too few applications that met the quality threshold. However, because the whole field of brain tumours has traditionally been underfunded and under researched, there needs to be more focus on understanding how brain tumours grow and develop.  

The inquiry also found that there were significant barriers to running clinical trials, including patchy access around the country and a lack of time and resources within the NHS. The pharmaceutical industry was also represented at the inquiry, and raised concerns about the complex regulatory framework around running clinical trials. 

The subsequent report generated from the findings of the inquiry has led to the reformed funding packages, as announced by the NIHR for the allocation of the remaining portion of the £40m. Among the new measures announced is a national consortium to develop a network for the delivery of brain tumour trials. 

There will also be a greater focus on funding research into the quality of life of patients, including the standard of care, support, and rehabilitation that they receive. The Tessa Jowell Allied Health Professional (AHP) research fellowships are a new initiative to build an evidence base for the importance of rehabilitation for people with a brain tumour. 

Finally, the reforms will include measures to attract and retain more early career researchers who will focus on brain cancer, in order to boost the quantity and quality of the research that is being carried out in the field. 

The Brain Tumour Charity, who have campaigned consistently for the funding to be properly allocated, have welcomed the announcement of the new initiatives. However, they point out that there are remaining barriers to be overcome, particularly around the setting up and implementation of clinical trials. 

The charity currently believes that there are too many obstacles that prevent scientific breakthroughs in the field from being translated into medicines that can effectively be delivered to treat patients. This has led to the establishing of a new Translational Research Fund by the charity, backed by £2.2 funding.

Dr Michele Afif, Chief Executive, commented: “We are delighted to see a clear commitment to ensuring that the money promised in 2018 will be spent.”

“Our attendance at the roundtable is the first step in working alongside Government, the NIHR, the TJBCM and other key partners at a series of workshops that will ensure this money is spent where it will have the biggest possible impact, by bringing new treatments to patients through innovative clinical trial models and quality of life research.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, NIHR CEO, said: “This transformative brain tumour research funding we are announcing is a key moment in our search for novel therapies and better treatments to save lives and improve the quality of life for patients with this condition.”

She added: “We are pressing ahead in this innovative new step, made possible due to our strong and collaborative partnership with charities, patients, the life sciences industry and the brain tumour community.”

“As we continue this journey together, it shows the crucial value of world-leading research shaped and funded by the public, integrated across the health and care system.”

Nicky Huskens, CEO of TJBCM, said: “Today’s announcements represent a transformative investment in the brain tumour community. It is a testament to the hard work and tireless campaigning of charities, patients and family members that we are where we are today; with the real possibility of discovering new treatment and care options for patients.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with the Government and the NIHR to develop these new initiatives, and we are confident that what will be announced today really does reflect the urgent needs of the community.”

“Dame Tessa Jowell told us all not to just put brain cancer in the ‘too difficult’ box, so it is crucial that, almost six years to the day of her death, we double down on the progress we have made and give families and patients more hope for the future.”

The new funding call will be supported by workshops delivered by the TJBCM to provide ongoing support and guidance for the brain cancer research community. A national consortium will be launched to drive step change into brain tumour research, and it will prioritise recent developments such as precision medicine.

Currently, one of the most precise and effective methods for treating brain tumours is Gamma Knife surgery

This is a form of radiotherapy that doesn’t involve traditional incisions, but is a method of externally delivering highly focused radiation beams from multiple angles to target the cancer cells, whilst leaving the remaining healthy cells untouched.

For more information about brain tumour treatment, please contact Mr Neil Kitchen of Amethyst Radiotherapy.