Towards a National Cancer Research Plan
Bowel Cancer Australia Advocacy Cancer Research 770


The Cancer Research Leadership Forum (CRLF) is an alliance of the national community-supported organisations that are the major non-government funders of cancer research in Australia.

It was formed in 2009 to enhance coordination of investment in research and collaboration between cancer charities.  Current members are the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Bowel Cancer Australia, Cancer Council Australia, Cure Cancer Australia Foundation, Leukaemia Foundation, Melanoma Institute Australia, National Breast Cancer Foundation and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia.

CRLF members share a common goal: to reduce the cancer burden in Australia.

In 2011 CRLF members collectively contributed $83 million of the approximately $300 million total investment in cancer research funding in Australia. To achieve their goal and make the greatest impact for all those affected by cancer, CRLF members are working together to coordinate planning, share learnings and co-fund national cancer research projects.

One of the CRLF's major initiatives is to facilitate the development of a national cancer research plan to streamline and boost available cancer research funding to make the greatest impact for people affected by and/or at risk of cancer. 

The Need for a National Cancer Research Plan 

At current rates, 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85.  Cancer research is key to increasing our understanding of cancer, enabling advances in prevention, detection and treatment, and thus reducing the incidence and improving outcomes for Australians affected by this disease.

Significant gains in knowledge about cancer types, causes and targeted treatments in recent years have increased the potential for major advances in cancer prevention and care in the next decade.

In Australia in 2011, almost $300 million was awarded to Australian cancer research projects, programs, infrastructure and support by a large group of government and non-government funders.  Australia is fortunate to have multiple funding organisations.  However, different drivers, regulations and funding strategies mean this investment is fragmented, creating unnecessary competition, duplication, inefficiencies and gaps. 

While major funders such as the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) or Cancer Australia have a national charter, Australia presently does not have a mechanism or strategy to coordinate planning and funding of cancer research across all funders.  There is an opportunity to enhance the impact of our collective investment in cancer research and maximise our efforts to make the advances needed to address Australia's growing cancer burden.

The CRLF believes that there is a need for an overarching national cancer research plan for Australia to coordinate investment in research and accelerate our progress in cancer control. The overall objective is to benefit people with, and at risk of, cancer by improving funding efficiency.

This issues paper was developed to engage all key stakeholders in discussion about what such a plan should encompass; and determine the best strategies for coordinating and co-funding cancer research to more efficiently and quickly advance knowledge and translate that knowledge to care to benefit people with cancer.

A national cancer research plan will:

  • Identify research priorities.
  • Guide community-funded cancer organisations' individual and collective funding strategies to optimise use of existing resources, develop capacity in areas of need and ensure a balance of funding allocated to research into different types of cancers and research across the cancer spectrum.
  • Enable Australian cancer research and funding organisations to 'collaborate, share data and define complementary research objectives to optimise the use of the limited funds available for cancer research and reduce duplication of effort'1, as recommended by the Union for International Cancer Control's World Cancer Declaration (2011).

Download the White Paper - Towards a National Cancer Research Plan.

Maximising the Impact of Cancer Research Funding in Australia 

Consultation with stakeholders across the Australian cancer research sector has highlighted strong support for funders of cancer research in Australia to further collaborate in planning, awarding and evaluating research funding and to develop new funding models to maximise the impact of their collective investment. 

Contributors to the development of this resource (including Summit participants and respondents to the CRLF's white paper) identified a broad range of issues and opportunities to enhance the funding, conduct and translation of cancer research in Australia.  Many of these were not unique to cancer research and extended well beyond the scope of the CRLF membership or indeed the community sector. Many echoed issues identified by the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research in Australia ('the McKeon Review') including:

  • opportunity losses due to gaps in national coordination between the multiple funders of research
  • challenges for current funding mechanisms to support research priorities and long term research
  • onerous peer and ethical review processes
  • restrictions on research activity in the health system, and opportunities to better integrate and translate research to clinical care
  • core skills gaps, and the need for greater support for early- to mid-career researchers, to attract and retain high quality cancer researchers and build capacity
  • the need to establish and maintain enabling infrastructure and technologies, and more adequately fund indirect research costs.

Many of the solutions that participants proposed to address these issues also were reflected in the recommendations of the McKeon Review, particularly those aimed at setting and supporting research priorities, supporting the research workforce, rationalising indirect cost funding, building enabling infrastructure, and encouraging 'scale' in philanthropy1.  The McKeon Review's recommended changes to Commonwealth Government approaches and mechanisms for funding health and medical research will, if effected, increase and improve funding for cancer research by addressing many of the broader issues and roadblocks. Participants encouraged community-funded organisations to maintain and increase their advocacy for policy and systems change that will increase support for cancer research and researchers.

Throughout the development of this resource, contributors recommended transformative, rather than minor, changes to priority-setting and funding approaches.  

Cancer research funders were encouraged to avoid traditional and rigid funding mechanisms and instead consider the continuation and further development of new approaches and mechanisms complement the NHMRC and other government funding strategies.  It was suggested that a proportion of research funding be committed to mechanisms designed to:

  • fund 'blue sky', innovative research
  • enable long-term, large-scale, collaborative and cross-disciplinary research
  • support priority-driven research to meet current and projected needs
  • establish and maintain infrastructure to sustain research
  • nurture and build capacity in the cancer research workforce.

This resource presents recommendations for new approaches and mechanisms that will support and complement the changes proposed by the McKeon Review and guide funding organisations in planning and funding their research investment to have the greatest impact in reducing the cancer burden in Australia.

Unless otherwise stated, the recommendations and statements in the following section reflect the general consensus of, or issues and suggestions most commonly cited by, participants at the National Cancer Research Summit and respondents to the CRLF white paper.

1 Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research in Australia. Consultation Paper: Summary. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 3 October 2012.

Download the White Paper - Maximising the impact of cancer research funding in Australia.


Bowel Cancer Research 

Bowel Cancer Australia_Funding Cancer Research

Cancer research in Australia: An overview of cancer research projects and research programs in Australia 2003 to 2005.   Source: Cancer Australia.

Bowel cancer may be one of the winners in a future realignment of cancer research dollars designed to better match the relative impact of specific cancers in the community.

A discussion paper by the Cancer Research Leadership Forum (CRLF) shows clearly that bowel cancer research is poorly funded compared to research for other types of cancer.

The paper, Towards a National Cancer Research Plan, was released ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February 2012, to generate discussion on the most effective allocation of research funds.

Bowel Cancer Australia is one of seven community-supported cancer organisations which make up the CRLF. They all share a common goal of reducing the impact of cancer in the community.

Julien Wiggins, chief executive of Bowel Cancer Australia said the CRLF was keen to streamline cancer research to ensure the best possible outcomes across the community from the money available.

“There are clearly anomalies in cancer research funding. Cancers such as lung and bowel, which are the leading causes of cancer deaths in Australia, do not attract the level of research funding of other cancers.”

“The CRLF believes there are better ways to allocate funds and to work together so that our collective research effort is well spent and in line with community needs and priorities,” he said.

The CRLF paper also highlighted the fact that historically a large proportion of research funding was directed at the basic science underlying cancer and treatment advances.

It suggested research into cancer prevention was just one of the areas that might benefit from increased funding, especially given the fact that a third of cancers were preventable.

The paper also said an ageing population was increasing the overall cancer burden because cancer is predominately a disease of older people.


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