At the end of last year, as part of the Critical Research Gaps Initiative, Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer revealed the critical gaps and key recommendations in bowel cancer research with the potential to lead to real improvements for patients. The findings, published in the leading scientific journal, Gut and our accompanying report ‘Finding the Key to the Cures – a plan to end bowel cancer by 2050’, will act as a unique roadmap for future research activity, driving forward the step change needed to stop bowel cancer.

Lead author, Professor Mark Lawler from Queen’s University Belfast, explains more about the work that led to this point, outlines the key findings and describes plans for what happens next.

Why was the Critical Research Gaps Initiative formed?

Each year, more than 41,200 people in the UK, and over 1.4 million worldwide are diagnosed with bowel cancer with many thousands losing their lives. It’s clear that more must be done to stop this deadly disease and we know that research is key to this.

The Critical Research Gaps Initiative aimed to identify the key research gaps and the recommendations with the greatest potential to address these gaps, so that we can benefit patients in the future and ultimately save lives.

How did it work?

Almost 100 leading cancer scientists, healthcare professionals and people affected by bowel cancer came together over a two year period from 2015-2017. Assembled into eight working groups, participants were tasked with identifying the key gaps in current bowel cancer knowledge, the research needed to fill these gaps, their potential impact for patients and any anticipated challenges or barriers. A variety of questionnaires, meetings, prioritisation, evaluations and working group reports eventually resulted in the critical research gaps scientific paper and the ‘Finding the Key to the Cures’ summary report.

What were the key findings?

Research gaps and recommendations for future priorities were identified across the bowel cancer pathway – from understanding more about how bowel cancer grows and develops, to improving efforts to prevent bowel cancer in the first place, diagnosing it at the earliest stage and improving treatments as well as optimising quality of life for everyone living with and beyond the disease.

The process also highlighted a series of cross-cutting issues that should be addressed if we are to truly drive progress. Data sharing, communication between healthcare professionals and their patients and greater collaboration between researchers, clinical experts and funders were deemed to be particularly important.

What happens next?

Identifying key research gaps and recommendations is only the first step. To achieve the step change that’s required to achieve real improvements, we must drive strategic investment in research, encourage greater collaboration, develop increased research capacity and ensure meaningful patient involvement.

The ‘Finding the Key to the Cures’ report provides us with a unique roadmap for future research activity. Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer are leading the way for change, using the findings of the Critical Gaps Research Initiative as the building blocks for their new five year research strategy, and committing to hold the first Colorectal Cancer Research Conference in 2018.

But we need others to join us to continue the momentum we have generated, accelerate progress and ultimately save lives from bowel cancer.

Find out more