British cancer researchers could find themselves with a major new research organization, loosely modelled on the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), after the country's two main cancer charities meet this month to consider a merger.
The trustees from the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) will meet up on 16 January. Even if a full merger is not deemed financially viable, the charities say they will collaborate much more closely in future on basic and clinical research.
“Collaboration is the best way to exploit our resources and reduce our costs,” says Gordon McVie, director general of the CRC. Both charities want to make more use of new equipment and techniques, such as microarray DNA chips and X-ray crystallography, he adds.
The CRC currently concentrates on extramural research, whereas most of the ICRF's work is done intramurally at its main institute in London. Paul Nurse, director general of the ICRF, says that a merger would see both classes of work continue in parallel, as happens at the publicly funded NCI in the United States.
But the UK charities have a long way to go in matching the NCI's financial might: each spends just over £100 million (US$150 million) per year, against the NCI's $4 billion. “We are chronically short of funds,” says McVie. “The British government has abdicated its responsibility to the charities.”
Scientists cautiously welcomed discussion of the merger, which could take at least a year to implement. Peter Hoskin, a CRC-funded oncologist at the Mount Vernon Hospital in Middlesex, says: “It would be better if funding and research were less fragmented.”