Charity calls for more spending on childhood cancer research

More money should be spent on research aimed at diagnosing and treating childhood cancer, a charity has said.

According to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH Charity), an average of 2p from every £1 invested in cancer research in the UK each year goes towards projects dedicated to cancers that impact those aged 14 and under.

The organisation said the “gulf” in funding “is hard to accept” and called for more to be done to help families.

Analysis by GOSH Charity, using the latest available data from a report conducted by the National Cancer Research Institute, found £702.6 million was spent in the UK researching all cancers, with just £15.2 million invested in research wholly focused on children.

Professor Darren Hargrave, GOSH Charity clinical professor and honorary consultant at GOSH, said: “Every year, over 1,800 children in the UK get diagnosed with cancer.

“Despite advances in treatment and care over the last few decades, there are still some types of cancer that are extremely difficult to treat and too many children’s lives are being lost.

“We’ve already seen the impact of innovative and personalised treatments for children with cancer, but we need to do more research to make this a viable option for more children, particularly those who have run out of alternatives.”

One patient to benefit from innovative treatment is Josh, 14, from Solihull, who was just five years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2014.

He underwent chemotherapy at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and had a bone marrow transplant, donated by his brother, following a relapse.

However, after two more relapses, he was treated at GOSH with Car T therapy as part of a clinical trial in 2018.

Josh,14, from Solihull, completed a clinical trial at Great Ormond Street after relapsing a number of times. His mum Vicky is backing GOSH Charity's campaign to build a new, state-of-the-art children's cancer centre by raising £300 million.
Josh completed a clinical trial at Great Ormond Street after relapsing a number of times (GOSH Charity/PA)

Josh’s mum Vicky told the PA news agency his initial diagnosis was a “complete shock”.

“He’d been unwell, lethargic, temperatures, getting sick. We honestly thought that he just needed some antibiotics and the doctor said it was viral.

“To be told leukaemia…we had no idea. People say ‘I knew, I had an instinct’ – we didn’t.

“We didn’t know. We didn’t think that anything like that would ever happen to us, ever.”

Vicky said the clinical trial at GOSH was “another chance”. She added: “He’d already had a transplant and we knew to put through a second one would would would be awful. We just didn’t think there was anything there.

“We’d heard of stuff over in America that was coming to England but the timing of that wasn’t working.

“When they said there’s a trial…it’s a lifeline, you’ve got a chance.

“With a lot of a lot of cancers, you won’t get all those chances. You won’t get another option.

“You can’t explain the feeling. It’s just unbelievable. It’s still a worry because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“But Great Ormond Street spoke to us in such depth that we understood every possibility. They didn’t leave any stone unturned. They told us everything that could possibly happen.”

Josh is now preparing to go back to school for year 10 and plays for a football team.

Without the trial offered by GOSH, Vicky said he “wouldn’t be sitting on his Xbox now shouting at his friends”.

GOSH Charity is now aiming to raise £300 million to help build a new Children’s Cancer Centre at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Vicky said state-of-the-art facilities are “so important” when it comes to treating children with cancer.

“They’re built for purpose,” she added. “Especially for children who are vulnerable as this.”

Kiki Syrad, director of impact and charitable programmes at GOSH Charity, said the facility has the potential to be “game-changing”.

She added: “Cancer is still the biggest killer of children aged between one and 14 in the UK, so this gulf in funding is hard to accept.

“We need to do more to help the five families a day who receive the news that their child has cancer and know that research has the potential to unlock a new generation of treatments.”

Dr Sara Ghorashian, consultant in paediatric haematology at GOSH, said the new centre would “help to increase research capacity” as well as improving the facilities needed to “pioneer new breakthrough therapies” and “help save more children’s lives”.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.