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Broadcaster Victoria Derbyshire and former Cancer Research UK CEO Sir Harpal Kumar awarded honorary doctorates

Professor Clare Isacke, Sir Harpal Kumar, Professor Paul Workman, Victoria, Bill Kaelin

Image (left to right): Professor Clare Isacke, Sir Harpal Kumar, Professor Paul Workman, Victoria Derbyshire, Bill Kaelin at the ICR graduation ceremony

BBC broadcaster and journalist Victoria Derbyshire has been awarded an honorary doctorate by The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

The honour recognised her extraordinary efforts to demystify the patient experience of cancer, by sharing her own experiences of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Victoria Derbyshire, a BAFTA award winning broadcaster at the BBC, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015. She documented her experiences on her YouTube channel, and in her diary ‘Dear Cancer, Love Victoria: A Mum’s Diary of Hope’.

Her honest and open accounts have been a source of hope and information for women diagnosed with breast cancer across the country, and she has become a prominent advocate for breast cancer awareness and research.

Researchers at The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre lead important study programmes to understand the genetic and environmental causes of breast cancer.

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Increasing awareness

Her honorary degree, a Doctor of Science (Medicine), acknowledges the impact she has had by sharing her personal experiences.

Last year Victoria visited the Breast Cancer Now Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and saw innovative breast cancer research first hand – describing her visit on YouTube.

Victoria Derbyshire joined graduating students from the ICR at an award ceremony on Monday 9 July in Senate House at the University of London, of which the ICR is a college. Victoria’s partner, Mark Sandell, accompanied her when she received her honour alongside two other recipients.

Services to cancer research

Sir Harpal Kumar received an honorary degree in recognition of his outstanding services to cancer research. Sir Harpal stood down in June as Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, a position he had held since 2007.

Sir Harpal has a long list of achievements spanning his career in cancer research institutes, including building Cancer Research UK’s research spend, and ensuring plain packaging for cigarettes. His services to cancer research were acknowledged in the 2016 New Year Honours list, when he received his knighthood.

Sir Harpal led the Independent NHS Cancer Taskforce for England, authoring its strategy for 2015-2020: ‘Achieving world-class cancer outcomes’. He is a Trustee of The Francis Crick Institute in London and Innovation Champion for UK Research and Innovation.

Success in understanding cancer genes

Professor William Kaelin, known as Bill, is the final recipient at this year’s ICR graduation ceremony.

Bill Kaelin is one of the most eminent cancer researchers of his generation, and has served as Associate Director, Basic Science, for the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

His research has led to a much greater understanding of the role of tumour suppressor genes in cancer and the fundamental mechanism by which our cells sense and adapt to changes in oxygen availability – leading to new cancer treatments.

Outstanding research career

Bill Kaelin’s research began by focusing on a rare inherited condition called von Hippel-Lindau disease, which can lead to kidney cancer and other cancers.

He helped show that von Hippel-Lindau disease is caused by a mutation in the VHL gene, disrupting the sensing of oxygen levels and leading to an overproduction of blood vessels.

His work on the VHL protein led to the eventual successful clinical testing of drugs to block blood vessel growth for the treatment of kidney cancer, and also opened up new approaches to treatment for diseases beyond cancer, including heart attacks, stroke and anaemia.

We celebrated the hard work and achievements of our 2018 student graduates – and future generation of cancer researchers.

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Incredible achievements

The ICR and its board has invited the three individuals to receive Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Science (Medicine) of the University of London to recognise and celebrate their dedication and outstanding achievements in cancer research and awareness.

The ICR has been carrying out pioneering research into cancer for more than 100 years. Today, it is a world leader at discovering new targeted cancer drugs, identifying cancer genes and developing new high-precision forms of radiotherapy.

Victoria Derbyshire, broadcaster and journalist, who received an Honorary Degree from the ICR, said:

“After being diagnosed with breast cancer, it was a no brainer to go public for me. It was an experience I didn’t ask for and didn’t want but I saw an opportunity to do journalism. When I talked about my experiences and made my first video diary, I did so as a journalist, I really didn’t expect the overwhelming reaction that I got.

“I had thousands of people getting in touch who were going through similar experiences with cancer thanking me. Women who were about to have a mastectomy telling me I had taken the fear away for them. It was incredible.

“What I really didn’t expect was how much support I got back. I had a huge influx of people sending me messages of support, of love, and inspiration. I hadn’t expected that sort of reaction to going public, or how much of a support I would find it myself.

“When I first saw the invitation for the honorary degree I genuinely couldn’t believe it. Then when I read the reasons which I was selected and who the other honorary graduates were it was very emotional. I feel so grateful to be included.”

“A huge honour”

Sir Harpal Kumar, former Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, who received an Honorary Degree from the ICR, said:

“It is a huge honour to receive this honorary doctorate today, not least from my close association with the ICR over the last 15 years and seeing the extraordinary science and huge impact that the ICR has had on humanity.

“Also from knowing who has been awarded this honour in the past, it is really humbling to join such a distinguished group of recipients.”

Professor William Kaelin, Professor in the Department of Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who received an Honorary Degree from the ICR, London, said:

“I was very pleasantly surprised to be honoured by The ICR, it is a world renowned cancer research institution and I am extremely flattered to be recognised in such a way.

“I have known Professor Paul Workman, CEO of the ICR, for 20 years now and I have been following his work. We have spent some time together in the past, I have also crossed paths with a number of other ICR researchers.

“Every day scientists criticise each other, and the good scientists also spend time criticising themselves. It is great when this stops, and your achievements are recognised by your peers whom you respect so much.”

The ICR is committed to educating and training the next generation of researchers and clinicians.

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Making the discoveries that defeat cancer

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the ICR, London, said:

“The ICR recognises the importance of contributions from a wide range of people in making the discoveries that defeat cancer and improving the outcomes for cancer patients and their families.

“It is therefore our great honour to celebrate the recipients today for their outstanding individual contributions to improving lives for patients with cancer.

“Helping patients is at the very heart of what we do at the ICR, and we value the diverse ways our recipients have contributed to this mission, whether it be research, leadership, or awareness and support.”

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

“We remain very grateful to Victoria for continuing to shine a spotlight on breast cancer, by providing important health messages to women and airing important issues relevant to patients through her show.

“Her videos, diaries and recent book have and will continue to be a source of comfort and hope to so many others facing a diagnosis and subsequent treatment.  

“Breast cancer touches the lives of millions of us in the UK and despite the incredible progress that research has achieved, around 11,500 women still lose their lives to this devastating disease each year.

“It is with the support and advocacy of individuals such as Victoria, who publicly share their experiences and champion issues important to patients, that we are able to continue to raise awareness of the disease and the vital need for further research to stop women dying of breast cancer.”


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