The cost of developing new treatments and the case for front-loading discovery science funding

3 min read

The challenging journey towards developing a new medicine

Whilst the last 20 years has seen a revolution in our understanding of how cancer develops, options for treating brain tumours are very limited and it remains one of the deadliest forms of cancer. Substantial effort is required to change this situation and our research is at the forefront of finding new and more effective ways to treat patients with a brain tumour.

We recently reported that, on average, it can take 17 years for a scientific discovery to reach the clinic, costing over £1 billion to bring a new treatment to patients. It is the collective effort of many organisations that makes this happen. Brain Tumour Research plays a crucial role at the start of this process, with our researchers making new discoveries about what goes wrong to make a tumour form, translating these findings into potential new treatments.

Once a promising discovery is made in a research laboratory, it progresses to a lengthy and expensive journey of translating this knowledge into a potential new treatment. The next step in this pathway is drug discovery, whereby thousands of chemical compounds are tested to see if they have any effect on targeting the vulnerability that has been identified in the tumour cells.

Very few drug candidates that join this pathway actually become a new medicine. Each candidate undergoes a rigorous sequence of testing starting in the laboratory, to see if they kill tumour cells, and moving to the clinic, to see if they are safe, effective and better than existing treatments. A successful medicine will have passed all of these hurdles, being carefully selected from thousands of candidates at the drug discovery stage. New technologies using artificial intelligence and biological markers to measure tumour response are improving this process, and there is hope that it will be quicker and cheaper to develop new drugs in the future. Indeed, our recent experience in developing new treatments and potential vaccines for COVID-19 highlights how rapidly progress can be made when the collective will exists.

What is Brain Tumour Research’s role in this pathway?

Brain Tumour Research supports basic research (also known as discovery science) and early-stage translational research. This is a crucial step in drug development since it lies at the very start of the whole process. If this research doesn’t happen, there will be no new discoveries progressing to drug discovery, drastically restricting the pipeline of future new treatments.

Basic research is costly and risky. How we manage these challenges is key to our successful approach. By establishing Centres of Excellence, our researchers work in partnership with a wide range of organisations to maximise the funding that can be put towards brain tumour research. The success of our Centres reflects a collective effort from three main routes:

Brain Tumour Research To establish and provide core funding for each Research Centre of Excellence
Host Universities To provide infrastructure, facilities, a vibrant research environment and salary support for senior researchers.
Other funders Government, other medical research charities and industry award funding to our Centres.

Indeed, the funding provided by Brain Tumour Research acts as a significant lever in attracting grants from many other sources. For example, our Research Centre at the Queen Mary University of London has been very successful in securing additional funding from the University and from elsewhere. In total, the Centre has secured £5.86 million in funding from other sources. This means that for every £1 awarded by Brain Tumour Research, a further £2.41 has been secured from other funders.

In such difficult times as we are experiencing currently, more than ever before a collective effort is required, engaging charities, universities, government, industry and patients. Working together in this way is central to our approach in finding new treatments for brain tumours.

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