Industry, researchers and funders are coming together to accelerate treatments, with the goal to stop breast cancer deaths by 2050. 

Pfizer is the first company to sign up to the initiative, opening up access for researchers to use existing breast cancer drugs or molecules that they’re still working on in their laboratories.

The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme

The research funded through the programme will help lead the way in advancing treatment options for the one in eight women who will face breast cancer in their lifetime. The first collaborator signed up to the Catalyst Programme is the biopharmaceutical company Pfizer. Pfizer’s commitment includes allowing academic researchers unprecedented access to certain drugs in Pfizer’s oncology pipeline, opening up some of its existing and experimental assets to independent research. By allowing academic research teams across Europe to explore the potential of these assets, and see how they might interact with other drugs and treatments already available to patients, the collaboration with Pfizer aims to develop and deliver new therapies and treatments more quickly.

To enable this research, Pfizer has also committed £10 million [USD 15 million] which Breast Cancer Now will use to award grants to the best proposals from independent researchers over the next three years. Breast Cancer Now are also currently in discussion with a number of additional pharmaceutical companies with a view to them joining the Programme later this year.

Intellectual integrity and independence will be at the heart of the collaboration; a new committee of science experts will make recommendations on where funding should be allocated dependent on scientific merit, enabling research teams across the UK and Europe to drive the direction of the most advanced breast cancer research. The application process is due to open later this year.

Frances Haworth is a BRCA-2 gene carrier, and was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease, when she was 39 years old. Now six years clear of the disease, she lives in London with her three children. She said:

“My diagnosis came as a huge shock – there was no history of breast cancer in my family – and to find out that my breast cancer was the most aggressive kind was incredibly frightening.

“I feel very lucky that my treatment was so successful, but it’s not the case for too many women. Anything that can speed up new treatments for women like me is an amazing thing, and I’m totally behind it.”

George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, said:

“The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme places NHS patients at the heart of 21st Century research collaboration and promises to bring innovative new treatments to patients as fast as possible.

“The landscape of drug development and discovery is changing, and this incredibly exciting new initiative demonstrates exactly how the pharmaceutical industry, charities and researchers can work together to achieve life-changing breakthroughs.”

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

“In the last 20 years we’ve made great progress in treating breast cancer, but progress has slowed, and 12,000 deaths a year in the UK from this disease is still too many. We strongly believe that the fight against breast cancer can only be won by everyone joining their efforts.

“Today’s launch of The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme marks this new era of collaboration and fresh thinking, focused on excellence and new discoveries. By combining our expertise, knowledge and resources we want better, stronger medicines and treatments to reach those women and men suffering from breast cancer quicker.”

The UK has one of the lowest breast cancer survival rates in Western Europe, and this year alone, 50,000 women will be diagnosed, and 12,000 women will lose their lives to the disease this year. It’s time to act.

Maria Koehler, MD, PhD, Vice President of Strategy, Innovation and Collaborations for Pfizer Oncology, said:

“As a science company and a leader in breast cancer research, Pfizer Oncology’s aim is to develop medicines that control and cure people’s cancer. We believe that great science comes through collaboration; together, through supporting initiatives such as this, we can achieve more and move faster, improving the outlook for breast cancer patients in the UK and around the world.”

Professor Robert Coleman, Breast Cancer Now Trustee and Professor of Medical Oncology at Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield, said:

"This is an incredibly exciting time for breast cancer researchers; The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme has the potential to make a huge difference to the development of new breast cancer treatments in the UK and beyond.

"By working with patients to define the scope of new grant funding schemes, we’ll ensure the initiative is patient-focused and takes us closer to clinical breakthroughs faster."

Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), Aisling Burnand MBE, said:

"Patient-centred collaboration is hugely important, and to guarantee continued success in cancer research, we cannot afford to work in silos. Breast Cancer Now’s initiative is an exciting example of how medical research charities are finding new ways to fund lifesaving research in partnership, and we welcome it.

“Research teams and industry will need to continue evolving how they work together, so it’s encouraging to see commitment on this scale from the pharmaceutical industry to really push discoveries forward."

The Breast Cancer Now Catalyst Programme has been designed with breast cancer patients at its heart. It is both supported by patients and patient involvement in the Scientific Advisory Group will to help define the remit and format of the funding of the research.