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Cancer charity ‘vital’ for research investment in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 08:30 09 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:24 09 September 2020

“Big C has a long-standing vision to attract the most talented scientists and researchers to Norfolk,” says Big C Chief Executive Dr Chris Bushby     Pictures: Big C

“Big C has a long-standing vision to attract the most talented scientists and researchers to Norfolk,” says Big C Chief Executive Dr Chris Bushby Pictures: Big C

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Norfolk and Waveney cancer charity Big C plays an important role as an investor in cancer research projects taking place in Norfolk.

Big C funded clinical trials for the Tiger Test, which distinguishes aggressive prostate cancer from non-aggressive   Pictures: Big C/Julian ClaxtonBig C funded clinical trials for the Tiger Test, which distinguishes aggressive prostate cancer from non-aggressive Pictures: Big C/Julian Claxton

It might surprise you to learn that Big C has invested more than £13 million in local cancer research and medical equipment to date. The positive impact of this research will continue to benefit cancer patients locally and globally – 
now and in the future.

In 2015, Big C moved its head office from the city centre to Centrum on Norwich Research Park. This was a strategic move to place the charity close to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and at the heart of the world-leading research taking place at UEA and institutes across the Park.

Big C’s first investment in research occurred in the early 1990s, supporting Dr Ian Gibson’s UEA laboratory. Long before he took his political seat, Dr Gibson had an impressive career in the biology of cancer, specifically in the development of new drugs targeting genes for chronic myeloid leukaemia.

Then in 1998, Big C funded the first Chair of Cancer Studies in the School of Biological Sciences at UEA. Professor Dylan Edwards moved from Canada to take the position, which he held until 2016, when he moved to Norwich Medical School in the role of Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. In 2017, he was made Pro-Vice Chancellor of the School with oversight of the university’s role in Norwich Research Park.

Prof Dylan Edwards is part of a cancer research team at the UEA funded by the Big C  Picture: Denise BradleyProf Dylan Edwards is part of a cancer research team at the UEA funded by the Big C Picture: Denise Bradley

Professor Edwards said: “Big C has been hugely important in helping to build a world-class cancer research community in Norwich. Beginning with my recruitment back in 1998, we’ve now grown to over 30 clinical and basic science research groups that are working on Norwich Research Park at UEA, NNUH and the research institutes.

“We came together to form the Norwich Cancer Research Network (cancerresearchnorwich.org.uk), combining our expertise in the fundamental mechanisms of cancer to develop diagnostics and novel therapies, as well as improvements in medical devices and palliative care. With the new Quadram Institute that Big C helped to fund, we’re exploring how the gut microbiome and healthy behaviours can promote cancer prevention. This is a very exciting time to be working in research to eliminate the burden of cancer – and Big C continues to be vital to the mission”

In 2011, Big C provided funding to Norwich Medical School for the appointment of Professor of Cancer Genetics at UEA, a role filled by Professor Colin Cooper. Originally from Norfolk, Professor Cooper is a leading cancer genetics researcher who previously worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.

His work at Norwich Research Park has led to an internationally renowned breakthrough in the form of the Tiger Test, which distinguishes aggressive prostate cancer from non-aggressive. Big C provided additional funding for this project to support clinical trials. It is hoped that the Tiger Test will save lives by providing an accurate diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer, sparing tens of thousands of men from unnecessary treatment that often results in life-changing side effects.

Big C Director of Charitable Operations Dr Melanie Pascale   Pictures: Big CBig C Director of Charitable Operations Dr Melanie Pascale Pictures: Big C

Professor Cooper said: “I am extremely grateful for the support Big C provides. Without this I would never have been able to build my research group at UEA, which is leading some remarkable discoveries that are already impacting on patients’ lives. 
At the top of this list is the development of the Tiger Test. The Big C grant allows us to put in place and develop a diagnostics laboratory that can be used for the routine analysis of patient samples from the NNUH and other hospitals worldwide.”

Earlier this year, UEA announced a significant development in young bone cancer treatments by Dr Darrell Green, which they described as one of their biggest breakthroughs in decades. Big C was a primary funder of the research, helping 
to buy a rare piece of equipment – the ClearCell FX System – which enabled him and his team to study circulating tumour cells in a way not previously possible. Big C also initially funded Darrell’s PhD in molecular biology at UEA.

“I simply wouldn’t be where I am today without Big C or the mentorship of my PhD supervisor, Professor Bill Fraser,” said Dr Green. “Without further commitment from Big C in helping to purchase the new equipment, the work into cancer metastasis would not be taking place.”

In October 2019, Dr Melanie Pascale joined Big C as Director of Charitable Operations and is responsible for leading and managing the charity’s research programme. Prior to joining Big C, Dr Pascale worked at the Quadram Institute at Norwich Research Park, where she was NHS Clinical Research Facility Lead. She said: “The impact that Big C has had on cancer research locally for over 30 years is significant. I look forward to developing this programme in the future, to ensure we can continue to progress our knowledge, understanding and treatment of cancer.”

Big C Chief Executive Dr Chris Bushby said: “Big C has a long-standing vision to attract the most talented scientists and researchers to Norfolk, enabling them to fulfil their work and progress our knowledge of cancer. It has been a very successful programme, with some key appointments that have played their part in changing the nature of cancer research locally. Investment in smaller embryonic projects is just as important, which, without funding, may never receive support and be able to proceed.

“It has often been commented by researchers that there are not many opportunities for this type of funding. The results of these research projects can go on to form larger studies with important outcomes to our understanding of cancer.”

Dr Bushby continues: “We understand what a difficult climate we currently find ourselves in. Big C faces the enormous challenge of increasing demand for our services against sharply falling income due to Covid-19, but we would like to appeal to those individuals, businesses and trusts who are able, to support Big C and enable us to continue to invest in the amazing research talent we have in our region which will improve our future lives and those of our children, grandchildren and future generations.”

Please call Big C Fundraising on 01603 619900 or visit www.big-c.co.uk if you or your organisation is interested in supporting Big C’s research programme.


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