How do we decide what research to fund? How do we ensure that we are making the most of our supporters’ money? It’s not surprising that this process is a complex one, which we take very seriously – read on to find out more about the process from start to finish.
At Breast Cancer Now, we’re incredibly proud of all of the progress our researchers make and can frequently be found enthusiastically discussing the latest discoveries in our blogs. While we love to share the successes of our scientists, we also think it’s essential to talk about just how we decide which research to fund.
To date, we have spent over £185 million on cutting edge breast cancer research and are currently funding almost 450 scientists at 29 research institutions across the UK and Ireland. Each year, we commit to spend around £15 million on research – but how do we know that the work we’re funding is the best?
Calling in the experts
The answer to this question may seem obvious – surely we just choose the best scientists – but it’s not quite that simple. To help us decide which projects to fund, we seek the advice of other researchers in a rigorous process known as Peer Review.
To apply for funding from Breast Cancer Now, researchers must provide a detailed explanation of what their research will achieve, how the work will be carried out and the potential benefit for breast cancer patients.
To kick off the process, every application is assessed by two members of our panel of experts – the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) - an independent group of 29 scientists and clinicians who generously give up their time to help us. The SAB make a shortlist of the most promising research proposals which are then sent to be peer reviewed externally; this means we ask other scientists from around the world to objectively assess the quality of the research. Each application is critiqued by a minimum of three external peer reviewers, who like our SAB, help us on an entirely voluntary basis. This ensures we get independent, unbiased opinions from experts in the field, giving us the information we need to decide which research proposals are of the highest quality.
Following peer review, the entire SAB panel meet to discuss each application, taking into account the comments from peer reviewers as well as giving their own expert views, and consider whether each proposal meets Breast Cancer Now’s strategic aim of ensuring that, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live, and live well.
The final say: the Board of Trustees
Once the SAB have assessed all the applications, they make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees, who have the final say on which research projects get funded. At Breast Cancer Now, our Board of Trustees is comprised of volunteers from a diverse background, including eminent scientists and clinicians and specialists from across the public and private sector, all of whom are dedicated to funding the highest quality breast cancer research.
But it doesn’t stop there
After all of that effort to make sure we’re only funding research of the highest quality, it’s not surprising that we also want to make sure our money is being spent in the best way throughout the course of each grant.
We therefore ask every researcher to complete a progress report each year to let us know how they’re getting on; this ensures we’re kept up to date with all their achievements and whether they’re on track to reach their goals. We also request a final report once their grant has ended, so we can see the impact that our funding has had.
So what do we fund?
We fund several different types of research grant across the UK and Ireland, from short term projects (typically lasting one to three years), to supporting early-career scientists and long term funding which includes the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, Research Units in London and Manchester and the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study. We have also recently launched the Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, giving breast cancer researchers access to drugs in the Pfizer pipeline. All of these projects will only receive funding after going through the rigorous process of peer review, so we can be sure that they are of the highest standard.
Our researchers are full of brilliant ideas – more ideas that we’re able to fund - and we want to be able to support as many of them as we can. Our research is only made possible as a result of the generous donations from our supporters, who go above and beyond every day. We have a duty to spend the money they raise on the very best research out there, and through the rigorous process of peer review, we can be sure that their hard work pays off.