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Thinking differently: innovation at Cancer Research UK

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Funding, Support

As the saying goes:

if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.

And, at Cancer Research UK, if we’re to reach our ambition of 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034, we need to think differently.

This week we’ve launched Pioneering Research 2015/16, our annual research publication, and within this we’re sharing the ways we’re embedding innovation across the charity.

We rely on creativity and innovation 

Every year we spend hundreds of millions of pounds supporting high-calibre cancer research, relying on the creativity and innovation of our research community.

But, as a funder, we need to find novel ways to spark creative ideas and encourage fresh thinking for how to tackle cancer challenges. That’s why we’ve developed exciting new ways of supporting novel research ideas across our funding portfolio.

From sandpit workshops to ‘Dragon’s Den’-style pitches, we’re challenging the research community to ‘think outside the box’.

Finding fresh ideas 

Cancer research Innovation - Pioneer Award

Our Population Research Innovation Workshops bring together participants from a range of disciplines to explore cancer challenges in population research, build new collaborations and think creatively to develop a pitch for a research project that’s peer-reviewed and potentially funded on the spot.

Funding innovative research projects

As well as encouraging fresh thinking, our Pioneer Awards have been developed to fund projects that would not be supported through more traditional routes – taking on high-risk, high-reward ideas, which have the potential to make a big impact on cancer survival.

The awards are innovative in a number of ways.

For a start, the initial application is just two pages long and anonymised, removing any unwitting bias.

Applications are encouraged from a broad range of disciplines, such as:

  • population researchers
  • computer scientists
  • mathematicians
  • software developers
  • biomedical research fields

Finally, applicants have to pitch their idea in a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style presentation, to convince experts from a range of scientific and technology backgrounds that their idea is worth a shot.

It’s a fast process – initial application to receiving funding can be as little as four months.

After two rounds of funding, the committee has funded eight projects worth a total of £1.3 million, ranging from asking whether artificial intelligence could help with surgical decision making to exploring whether a drink containing oxygen micro-bubbles could improve efficacy of treatments.

Welcome to the virtual lab

Cancer Research UK virtual lab tour
Cancer Research UK virtual lab tour

And it’s not just in our research funding where we’ve challenged ourselves to think differently. We’re embracing innovation and pioneering new approaches across our organisation, including how we share discoveries with our supporters.

We know that experiencing our science first hand is incredibly motivating for our supporters, so we’ve created a virtual lab tour using cutting-edge smartphone virtual reality headsets.

Moving seamlessly from basic biology to clinical trials, it’s a 360 degree immersive viewing experience of life at our Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, giving viewers immersion into the world of science without ever having to set foot in a lab.

We’ve been taking the virtual tour to events across the country, and we’re excited to take this to the next level – developing a mobile app, which will allow anyone, anywhere to experience life in the lab.

Apply today

We believe that innovation is essential to generate new solutions.

We’re putting mechanisms in place to support and drive innovation, but we realise that not all innovation happens in this structured way.

As Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Strategy and Research Funding at Cancer Research UK, explains:

Sometimes the most innovative ideas don’t conform to the rules or fit in a funding framework – if you’ve got an idea that doesn’t fit the mould but could be ground-breaking, we want to hear it.

If you have an idea that could be revolutionary in tackling cancer you can apply to the Pioneer Award scheme by visiting the Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award website.

The committee reviews applications three times a year so you can apply at any time.

The next deadline is 5 September 2016.

Follow Research at Cancer Research UK on Twitter: @crukresearch

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