22nd December 2016

2016 – What a year THAT was!

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For many of us, 2016 has been a tough year, memorable for all the wrong reasons. Right from early January, we seemed to be losing famous and much-loved personalities at an alarming rate.

David Bowie, Sir Terry Wogan, Caroline Aherne, Prince, Victoria Wood, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Ronnie Corbett and so many more, all left us during the course of the year. It felt like we were bidding farewell to an entire generation of entertainers, musicians and sports stars, so great was the toll.

We also lost football legend, Johan Cruyff, to lung cancer in 2016

In the world of politics too, turbulence and surprise became the order of the day. How many of us would have foreseen the British public voting to leave the EU, prompting the resignation of the Prime Minister and his replacement by Theresa May? Or the triumph of Donald Trump in the US Presidential contest? Not to mention the sight of former cabinet minister Ed Balls taking to the floor with such gusto on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’!

Yes, few of us are likely to forget 2016.

Those who deal daily with the realities of lung cancer know all too well the rollercoaster of emotions it can launch – pride, hope, inspiration, sadness, anger, determination and so many more besides. Many of you will have had to cope with such feelings during 2016.

So let’s just take a moment now to remind ourselves why we can look ahead with hope to the New Year.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation recognises that medical science can only beat this disease by increasing our store of knowledge – of how it works, how it spreads, and how we can treat it.

That’s why we raise funds to back vital research projects. That’s why we choose to support the kind of projects other funding bodies tend to avoid: the ones that ask tough, awkward, fundamental questions. The ones that might not necessarily spark an immediate breakthrough – but which will add little bits, piece by piece, to the sum total of knowledge scientists need to tackle lung cancer.

We are delighted to have once again contributed around £1 million in 2016 to our various research projects. That’s ENTIRELY down to YOU – our amazing supporters. ‘Thank you’ never quite covers it – but we DO thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, because, with your help, one day, we WILL beat this disease.

So, how about some good news?

Immunotherapy as a viable treatment for lung cancer started making headlines this year. It works by helping the body’s immune system recognise cancer cells and attack them in the same way it would an infection.

In Scotland, an immunotherapy drug called Nivolumab was licensed for use by NHS patients with certain types of lung cancer – firstly, in July, for patients with squamous Non-Small-Cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and then in August for those with non-squamous NSCLC.

In December, NICE, the ‘gatekeeper’ body which advises the NHS on medicines and treatments’ recommended that another immunotherapy drug – pembrolizumab – should be made available to patients in England with NSCLC. Changes to the way the Cancer Drugs Fund operates mean that this drug will be immediately funded by NHS England.

NICE has also recommend that a ‘targeted therapy’ drug – Osimertinib – should be made available as a second-line option for people with advanced NSCLC that has a specific mutation, known as EGFR T790M-positive. This drug works by targeting cancer cells directly meaning patients suffer less severe side effects than with other chemotherapy.

We see these decisions as positive indications of what lies ahead – better treatments for patients.

Also in 2016, we have been backing research projects into ways to recognise and diagnose lung cancer earlier.

Early diagnosis is key to improving outcomes for patients, and the media have carried reports of a project in Scotland looking into testing blood for antibodies produced as a response to lung cancer might be used as a tool to help diagnose the disease.

The use of mobile CT scanning units is also on the horizon. This could – potentially – help to reach more people most at risk of developing lung cancer, providing them with a pathway to earlier diagnosis. We will have more news on this early in the New Year – watch this space!

So, 2016 has indeed been a year like no other. Tough, rough and at times bleak – with grim news from home and abroad assailing us daily. But the year also leaves us with much cause for hope and optimism.

Our amazing researchers inspire us with their dedication and their persistence. Our colleagues inspire us with their energy and their professionalism. But above all, it’s the patients and their families, loved ones and supporters who truly inspire us. Thank you. Again.

And may 2017 be a brave, fruitful and positive year for all of you.