Cancer Research UK is looking to the future with renewed optimism following one of the most difficult years in its history.
The charity’s Annual Report and Accounts 2020/21 reveals the impact of the pandemic on its income and spend on charitable activities over the past year. The report also highlights how it has shown resilience and adapted quickly to a changed world so that it is ready to take on the challenges ahead.
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, said: “COVID-19 has disrupted cancer care, our life-saving research and us as a charity. With 1 in 2 people getting cancer in their lifetime, and tens of thousands of people left undiagnosed or waiting for tests and treatment due to the pandemic, this disruption comes at a time when we have never been more needed.
“Despite this, I remain cautiously optimistic for the future. Our determination to beat cancer hasn’t faltered and we are more focussed than ever on our ambition of seeing 3 in 4 people survive their cancer by 2034.”
Key figures from the report include:
- Cancer Research UK spent £419m on charitable activities over the last financial year, including £388m on cancer research. Whilst this is a significant amount of money spent on beating cancer, the impact of the pandemic meant that the charity spent £80m less on cancer research than the previous year.
- Cancer Research UK raised a total income of £582m, a decrease of £74m from the previous year. The reduction in income was largely due to the temporary closure of Cancer Research UK shops and postponement or cancellation of fundraising events due to national and regional restrictions.
Due to the pandemic, Cancer Research UK initially expected to see a reduction in income of £300m over three years (2020-2023). However, following better than anticipated performance over the past year, that figure is now expected to be £250m.
Cost saving measures, coupled with supporters giving more, means the charity is in a stronger position than it predicted.
“We were forced to take difficult emergency measures at the start of the pandemic to ensure our financial stability and buy us the time to put a plan in place for how we would recover from the pandemic,” said Mitchell.
“This agility, unity and the collective strength displayed by our wonderful staff, supporters and volunteers throughout this time has been admirable.”
However, the ongoing uncertainty as the country continues to emerge from the pandemic means the charity will be approaching the next two years with caution.
Revisiting how to fund research
The impact of the pandemic on Cancer Research UK’s income meant that the charity was forced to cut its expenditure.
The charity has reshaped its research model and sadly reduced research spending to £320m in 2021/22, down from the roughly £370m it had spent annually in the previous two years.
Increasing research expenditure is the charity’s top priority if its financial performance is better than expected in future years.
Cancer Research UK predicts it will return to year-on-year growth in fundraising income by 2022/23. And even after the cuts made to research spending, the charity will continue to be the largest charitable funder of cancer research in the world – remaining at the forefront of the global fight against cancer.
“We can confidently say that we have solid foundations from which to transform how we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer through live-saving research, and have plenty to celebrate from the past year and to look forward to in the years ahead,” said Mitchell.
“I firmly believe that we will remember this as a tough few years in a much longer history at the forefront of the global fight against cancer.”
Continuing to make progress
Despite the challenges Cancer Research UK faced last year, the charity continued to make striking progress against its aim of bringing forward the day when all cancers are cured.
“The past year proves the value of investing in the long term in the highest quality discovery science and medical research, and what can be achieved through collaboration. Even in a year dominated by the pandemic, we have taken some giant strides, including the launch of Cancer Grand Challenges, our major new partnership with the US National Cancer Institute.
“Our researchers at the Francis Crick Institute played a pivotal role in the fight against COVID-19 – from contributing to our understanding of the virus, to repurposing their facilities to create testing and vaccination centres. Just as science is our route out of the pandemic, science is our route out of beating cancer.”
Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK
Key achievements outlined in the Annual Report and Accounts include:
- Launching Cancer Grand Challenges, a major new partnership with the US National Cancer Institute that challenges diverse groups of researchers from around the world to take on the toughest challenges in cancer research.
- TRACERx, Cancer Research UK’s biggest ever study of lung cancer, produced a number of exciting results, including suggesting earlier ways to predict which patients could relapse following treatment, and how to harness the immune system to boost treatment.
- Cytosponge, the ‘sponge on a string’ test for Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition that increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, proved so successful that during the pandemic, it was used by some GPs to identify people who needed further testing.
- Working in partnership with the Obesity Health Alliance to influence the UK Government strategy for obesity. This resulted in a commitment to restrict junk food marketing and price promotions.
- Funding three new research teams working on cancer in children and young people with Stand Up To Cancer and co-funding five more with Children with Cancer UK. This includes research on protecting children’s brains during radiotherapy and developing a new immunotherapy to treat leukaemia.
For every pound of income from donations, investments and royalties, 87p was available to fund further progress to beat cancer.