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How we’re taking on the challenges of cancers of unmet need

Around half of cancer patients in the UK now survive their cancer for more than ten years. But whilst outcomes for some types of cancer have improved enormously, patients with other tumour types continue to do very poorly. And once cancer has spread around the body, it is still often incurable. These patients urgently need new treatment options to help them survive their disease.

Dr Paul HuangDr Paul Huang and his team are forging new collaborations and opening up fresh avenues for research to meet the challenge of treating sarcomas.


What are cancers of unmet need?

Amongst the hundreds of different types of cancer, cancers of unmet need are united in being harder to treat, and some are associated with a poorer prognosis. There are many reasons for this, which may vary across tumour types, for instance:

  • Rare cancers such as sarcomas collectively make up about one fifth of all cancers, yet they remain hard to understand, partly because they are quite diverse with fewer patients to study, and funding is all too often scarce.
  • The biology of some cancer types such as pancreatic cancer is exceptionally difficult to study and understand, making progress to develop new treatments very challenging.
  • Childhood cancers are not the same as adult cancers, and they need to be treated differently. However, children are seeing far slower progress in gaining access to new treatments than adults, with very few targeted drugs coming through to the clinic for paediatric cancers.
  • Any tumour which has spread is often harder to treat, and is associated with a lower survival rate, even for more common cancers such as bowel cancer

Areas of focus for our research

We are working to take on the challenges of these cancers, so that we can improve outcomes for patients by:

  • Better understanding their causes and biology
  • Identifying new therapeutic targets and discovering new therapies to tackle them
  • Running clinical trials for potential ways to treat them.

Our Chief Executive, Professor Kristian Helin, describes our vital work in this area: “We are working to develop new drugs including those that target especially challenging and novel targets – drugs which we hope will improve the survival rates of cancers that remain hard to treat.”

Tim's story

Tim Morgan was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer in 2015. He underwent operations, several rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and a new targeted gene treatment – but none of the treatments worked for long. He died in November 2019, aged 48.

Tim’s wife Hilary says: “The discoveries being made at the ICR are very exciting, and the advances in research gave us more time to spend making memories together as a family. It is so important that the ICR continue to improve our understanding of bowel cancer, so future patients have a better chance of being cured or living well with their cancer.”


To find out more about cancers of unmet need and to support our research, please contact Hannah Joyce, Deputy Director of Philanthropy.