We explain what impact we hope the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer will have on breast cancer research.

Wednesday 25 February 2015      Research blog
Better Together - how merging of two charities will benefit science

In November 2014, we announced we are merging with the other big funder of breast cancer research, Breast Cancer Campaign. This merger will make the new charity the UK’s largest dedicated funder of breast cancer research. We strongly believe that this merger will be highly beneficial for science, research and most importantly, people affected by breast cancer. Here we explain what impact we hope the merger will have on breast cancer research.

Research that fits

Both Breakthrough and Campaign are committed to funding the very best in breast cancer research. This is one of the reasons why the merger makes so much sense. Instead of competing in the crowded fundraising arena we can unite all our supporters and grow as a charity.

Both our funds are currently divided up to cover research into prevention, diagnosis, finding new treatments and tackling the problem of secondary breast cancer. As a single charity we will continue to fund these areas and, together, we will make a bigger impact.

Breakthrough and Campaign have two distinct ways of funding research which, when brought together, represent a comprehensive package of science across the UK and Ireland.

We’ve explained before how Breakthrough funds research. Campaign’s funding involves a rigorous peer review process involving a Scientific Advisory Board and the charity’s Trustees, just like at Breakthrough. But instead of funding long-term programmes at dedicated institutes, each year Campaign opens two calls for applications to all researchers at centres of excellence across the UK and Ireland. Within these calls researchers can apply for different types of grants, ranging from one year pilot grants to kick-start innovative new ideas, to five year Scientific Fellowships that keep outstanding scientists in breast cancer research.

Additionally, to address particular areas of need identified by Campaign’s seminal Gap Analysis, Campaign has introduced a commissioned research funding stream which has, to date, invested around £1m into breast cancer research. This money has been invested in three peer reviewed research projects to tackle gaps in the area of breast cancer prevention.

The differences in our methods of funding are stark when you look at the numbers: each year Breakthrough invests around £9m, funding six research grants in four different locations, while Campaign invests around £5.4m a year and currently supports around 82 research grants in centres spanning UK and Ireland. Each method has its advantages and it will be fantastic to see them integrated into a bolder, more innovative research strategy.

Benefits to science

It’s very rare in science that big discoveries just happen overnight. Research just doesn’t really work like that; it’s much more an incremental process, involving smaller findings from a lot of different labs.  This collaborative environment is the cornerstone of good research and without it we would be missing some of the biggest advances in medical research. The merger of Breakthrough and Campaign offers an opportunity for new and exciting collaborations to pop up.

Dr Rachael Natrajan, a scientist funded by both Campaign and Breakthrough, gave us her thoughts on the merger:

“I think the merger will unite all of the breast cancer researchers in the UK, helping to stimulate new ideas and allow us to work more closely.  This could be very beneficial because it can open up access to new tools and techniques to really drive research forward.”

“Receiving funding from both charities has really helped get my career going.  I have been able to establish my own lab within the Institute of Cancer Research – the thing I am most proud of in my career – and develop excellent relationships with the UK’s best breast cancer researchers.  I strongly believe the merger will encourage more of this and provide more funding for research.”

Learning from others

We know that other charities have been able to unite and take advances in research to the next level together as we know we can. For example, fourteen years ago two cancer research organisations, Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund (CRC and ICRF), merged to form a brand new charity.  They called it Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and it is now the largest independent funder of cancer research in the UK; last year alone it invested nearly £360m in research.

ICRF and CRC were investing a combined £150-£200m per year on research. It took just five years for CRUK to nearly double the amount available.  Whilst we are not currently able to fund research on that level, it’s encouraging to know that a successful merger of two charities can have such a positive impact.

Dr Simon Vincent, Assistant Director of Research for Breakthrough, was working for CRC when they merged in 2001:

“It was an extremely exciting time for the two organisations.  There was so much to do to somehow bring all the research activities together under one charity but we were all confident about the impact it was going to have.

“Having been through it once before and seen the positive effect it had on CRUK, I am sure that the merger of Breakthrough and Campaign is going to be brilliant for not only breast cancer research, but also those affected by the disease.”

Funding more research

For us to be able to spend more money on research we need more people to support the new charity.  The support of all the people that have backed Campaign and Breakthrough over the years will need to continue, and even more people will need to join if we are to invest more into breast cancer research.

James Jopling is Breakthrough’s Director in Scotland and will hold the same role in the new charity.  In 2000/1, James worked for ICRF as their Head of Direct Marketing and experienced the merger from a fundraising perspective:

“As with this merger, when I heard that Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund were intending to merge it made absolute sense to me, as it would lead to more progress being made more quickly.”

“The income for Cancer Research UK in 2015 is four times that of either individual charity, which shows what a great success this was.  I have every hope that the new charity formed from Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough will have just as big an impact for dedicated breast cancer research here in the UK.”

The future’s bright

It’s an incredible time to be part of these two charities and there is a serious amount of work going on behind the scenes to get the new charity ready for launch.  What will the new charity be like? How will we express all the urgent work that needs to be done to overcome breast cancer? What will we look like, sound like, or even be called?

We’re all on the edge of our seats in anticipation at the potential impact this merger will have on breast cancer research.  More science, more discoveries and, most importantly of all, a better chance of stopping people dying from breast cancer.