14 May 2021

Thursday 13th May 2021. Today, HRH The Prince of Wales visited the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, 21 years after he officially opened it (in 1999) as the UK’s first dedicated breast cancer research centre.

The Research Centre, which is funded by Breast Cancer Now, is globally renowned for bringing together world leaders in key scientific fields and enabling rapid progress in breast cancer research. The Research Centre currently houses more than 70 researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), with multidisciplinary science from bench to bedside all taking place under one roof.

As Breast Cancer Now’s Royal Patron, His Royal Highness learnt about key breast cancer research milestones that have been achieved at the Research Centre and are benefitting people affected by the disease.

His Royal Highness’ visit comes at a time when Breast Cancer Now, like many medical research charities, has been forced to reduce its investment in research due to a drop in fundraising income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The charity’s funded researchers have also lost valuable time in labs across the UK, due to disruption caused by the pandemic.  

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now said:

“Welcoming our Royal Patron HRH The Prince of Wales back to the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, I was immensely proud to share with him the world-class research breakthroughs we’ve achieved in the 21 years since he officially opened the Research Centre – all made possible thanks to the efforts of our amazing fundraisers.

“Yet despite the progress, our work has been significantly impacted by the pandemic – our researchers lost 230,000 hours in labs across the UK in the first wave, and we’ve endured a blow to our fundraising income that means we’re now less able to fund new science. All at the same time as delays in diagnosis and disruption to breast cancer services.

“Every year around 55,000 women and 370 men in the UK are diagnosed with this devastating disease. But without the long-term research investment needed our breakthroughs that can transform the lives of people affected by breast cancer could stall.”

Professor Andrew Tutt, Director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“We are delighted to welcome His Royal Highness back to the Research Centre after 21 years. The Research Centre is now a hub of scientific talent, bringing together both research scientists and clinicians under one roof to enable a highly collaborative, “bench-to-bedside’ approach. Our work is accelerating the discovery of smarter, kinder and more targeted treatments for women with breast cancer.

“Everything taking place at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the ICR is aimed at allowing women with breast cancer or those at risk of the disease to live longer and with a better quality of life. We are so grateful to have a dedicated breast cancer charity supporting our work.”

His Royal Highness visited a lab at the Research Centre to hear first-hand about an innovative research trial currently looking for new treatments for lobular breast cancer, which accounts for up to 15 per cent of all breast cancer cases.

Lobular breast cancer grows in different patterns from most other types of the disease and is harder to see on a mammogram. There are currently no treatments specifically designed to target this type of breast cancer, and researchers at the Research Centre are studying how existing drugs could be used to target a unique weakness, selectively killing cancerous cells and leaving healthy ones unharmed.

Dr Rachel Brough, Senior Scientific Officer at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, talked to His Royal Highness about her work on this trial seeking a potential treatment for lobular breast cancer. She said:

“Our team is working to better understand these tumours on a molecular level and we have identified a genetic weakness in this type of cancer that can be targeted by an existing lung cancer drug. We’ve now taken this drug into clinical trials which if successful could provide the first targeted therapy that is specific for lobular cancer.

“This kind of research, developing discoveries in the lab into treatments that transform lives, takes years and requires long-term investment. Although many areas of research have been delayed by the pandemic, we have been able to continue with this research thanks to the long-term funding we receive from Breast Cancer Now.”

Breast Cancer Now donors whose support has helped fund research at the Centre over the past 21 years were also present, many of whom either have direct experience of breast cancer or have seen it affect a loved one. This included individuals who have taken part in Breast Cancer Now’s £1,000 Challenge, each pledging to raise £1,000 for vital secondary breast cancer research at the Research Centre.

Oscar Coulson-Starley, 11, from Faversham in Kent, met His Royal Highness and shared his motivation for raising funds for Breast Cancer Now. He said:

“My mama was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2018, and it came back as secondary breast cancer last year. Hearing that she had the disease was a nasty shock but ever since her first diagnosis I’ve raised funds for Breast Cancer Now in all sorts of ways - from making jewellery and tie dye bags and recently I raised £1,850 for a raffle for the £1,000 Challenge.

“For me, raising money for breast cancer research is important because there isn’t an actual cure for it at the moment, but we are hoping that if we raise enough money, we might be able to find a cure.”

Breast Cancer Now estimates that almost 11,000 people could have been living with undiagnosed breast cancer in the UK at the end of 2020 due to the pandemic. Innovative breast cancer research has never been more urgently needed.

For more information about Breast Cancer Now or to help make world-class research and life-changing care happen visit www.breastcancernow.org

ENDS

For further information, images or to arrange an interview, please contact the Breast Cancer Now press office at press@breastcancernow.org or on 07436 107914.