4th December 2020

Global study reveals how much research into lung cancer was being conducted around the world prior to COVID-19

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Research saves lives.

We’ve all witnessed this year just how quickly scientists have responded to the novel threat of the coronavirus, developing effective vaccines in months rather than years.

It’s an astonishing achievement, made possible by the selfless dedication and collaboration of research scientists around the world. These vaccines give us all hope that soon we may be able to resume living much as we did before the pandemic.

Similarly, scientific advances have led to improvements in the prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

The world’s store of knowledge increases piece by piece. It’s like tackling a jigsaw puzzle, with researchers across the globe all contributing to make the picture clearer. Bit by bit, our understanding of this terrible, complex disease is increasing. Yet there is still much more that we need to understand.

As you may know, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is proud to work with other organisations, both here in the UK and worldwide. 

We are members of the Global Lung Cancer Coalition (GLCC), which brings together 40 non-governmental organisations from 29 different nations, to act as the international ‘voice of the patient’. The GLCC shares knowledge and resources from its members to improve understanding of lung cancer and experiences of people living with it.  Our medical director, Jesme Fox, is GLCC Secretary.

In 2014 the GLCC commissioned the Institute of Cancer Policy (ICP) to examine the state of global lung cancer research.

That study:

• Identified the top 24 countries publishing the most research papers into lung cancer: the UK was then ranked number 9, with the largest volume of papers published

• Analysed whether research outputs had changed over time

• Showed that lung cancer research lagged behind both breast and colorectal cancers in terms of the volume of papers published

• Demonstrated that some aspects of the disease and its treatment were under-investigated, such as screening, diagnostics and supportive and palliative care

Now, the latest (2020) study from the ICP updates those findings.

Encouragingly, every country in the top 24 has increased their research output.

Worldwide, the volume of all cancer research has risen by more than 2.5 times, from 47,989 papers published in 2004 to 126,473 papers in 2019. Better – the number of lung cancer papers published has nearly quadrupled; up from 2,113 papers published in 2014 to 8,259 in 2019. As a proportion of all global research, lung cancer has increased its share, from 4.4% in 2004 to 6.5% in 2019

This means lung cancer has overtaken colorectal cancer, both in terms of number of published papers and proportion of all research. However, lung cancer still lags behind breast cancer in terms of the number of papers and proportion of global research dedicated to it.

Change in volume and proportion of research output on lung cancer, vs colorectal cancer vs breast cancer, 2004 to 2019

The UK is currently ranked as number 9 in the world in terms of volume of papers published. However, these findings are published at a significant moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic meaning that many research budgets are being refocussed. It is hard to imagine that COVID-19 will not have a profound impact on lung cancer research, but it is essential that budgets are protected as far as possible.

In other words, the astounding work done by scientists around the world to tackle the virus comes with a heavy price. Just when the spotlight was finally shining on lung cancer, along came the pandemic. Now research into lung cancer research has fallen under its shadow. It will be difficult for researchers to resume their work, since funding will be harder to find.

As the 2020 GLCC study warns: ‘’All research funders are likely to be affected by COVID-19, though the extent of the impact and the implications for lung cancer research are not yet clear’’.

So, we need to push for global research investment to return to the levels seen in this study – and as quickly as possible.  

The GLCC is calling on all countries to protect and invest in lung cancer research. We welcome the increase in research into lung cancer from 2004 to 2018. This investment has contributed to advances in treatment, care and survival for people with lung cancer. The investments we make in lung cancer research today will make a difference for patients tomorrow.

We believe it is essential that all national governments:

1. Protect and invest in lung cancer research programmes

2. Encourage industry to continue investing in lung cancer research

3. Support research charities, particularly those with a drop in income due to COVID-19

4. Publish research spend on lung cancer on an annual basis

5. Collaborate with global partners to share research findings to improve patient care.

As ever, we at Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation remain dedicated to providing help, support, and above all hope, for all affected by this disease; through our membership of the GLCC we are also fighting to ensure researchers worldwide can once again fit together the pieces of the jigsaw that will help us defeat lung cancer.

You can read the latest GLCC study into The State of Global Lung Cancer Research here.