At Ovarian Cancer Action we had big plans for 2020. We were preparing to launch a new 5 year strategy with an ambitious goal of driving 10 year survival rates from 35% to at least 50% by 2030. In order to achieve this, we set ourselves the challenge of doubling our income to over £4m in 5 years. This would enable us to double investment into research and dramatically speed up the results.
Fast forward six months, and the pandemic has created challenges that we – as individuals, families, companies and charities – could never have dreamt would happen in our lifetime. We put our new strategy on hold and instead turned our attention to supporting ovarian cancer patients through these worrying times.
The pandemic has slowed the progress of our existing research whilst labs have been closed, and we’ve delayed the start of new research projects until we can secure more funding. Cancelled and reduced fundraising activity means we’re anticipating a 50% decline in income this year alone, which could be as much as £1million.
We can’t stop now
We are in an incredibly challenging situation but we won’t let the pandemic diminish our ambitions. Cancer patients remain some of the most vulnerable in our society, and the pandemic has only heightened the need for progress. As we begin a phase of ‘recovery’, we believe the worst thing we could do is to go back to pre-pandemic ‘normal’. It wasn’t acceptable then that only 35% of women lived longer than 10 years after their diagnosis. And it isn’t acceptable now.
In the short term we have quickly and efficiently adapted how we work and fundraise, and cut costs. But if we are to improve prognosis, we need to do more than make up for lost time. We must keep sight of our long term plans and return to a position of growth that will support our ambitions to dramatically improve survival. We have a long and difficult road to recovery ahead of us, but with your help it will be possible.
The situation today for patients
As the NHS faced one of the biggest hurdles in its history, it acted quickly to limit the spread and impact of the Covid-19 virus. While this was vital and necessary, it resulted in unthinkable disruption to cancer services. Chemotherapy treatment for thousands of women was postponed or reduced as it was feared this treatment would put them at greater risk. Almost all ovarian cancer surgery stopped because of capacity concerns in Intensive Care Units, and all non-Covid-19 related clinical trials were halted. While some areas are slowly restarting, there is inconsistency as others continue to tackle Covid-19 outbreaks.
This uncertainty and inconsistency continues to create great anxiety for patients across the UK. Shielding programmes for cancer patients have stopped, and we’re now moving from national guidelines to local lockdowns. Patients need our help more than ever to navigate the ever changing guidance to keep themselves safe. We have extended our Staying Connected partnership to provide much needed support and information until at least September. We are very grateful to our corporate partners whose funding has made this possible.
“You have helped me so much during this lockdown. I live on my own and am shielding so the zoom meetings I am finding so helpful for information & support. Thank you to all the staff, you are doing a really brilliant job through such difficult times.”Ovarian cancer patient and Staying Connected webinar attendee
At the peak of lockdown cancer referrals dropped off a cliff, but the number of women getting ovarian cancer hadn’t changed. A combination of women with symptoms not presenting at the GP, and GPs not referring women for further testing meant that in April referrals for cancer were 70% less than normal.
An early ovarian cancer diagnosis is crucial to good survival rates, so alongside NHS England we launched a nationwide campaign to encourage anyone experiencing symptoms to get checked out. We are grateful to our media partners who helped get this vital message out by providing advertising and media space free of charge. Referrals are now rising again, but there is much more to be done to get them back to normal.
The consequences of Covid-19 for ovarian cancer patients will be felt for a long time to come and It is vital that we minimise this impact as much as possible. We will continue to be a voice for ovarian cancer, provide support and information for women, and fund new research that will result in better treatments.
Getting our research back on track
While supporting patients has been our highest priority during lockdown, we’ve never lost sight of what will have the biggest impact for patients – funding innovative research.
Our expected income decline has forced us to reduce our research spend. However, we have committed to fund our existing projects with a slightly reduced budget for this year, working with our researchers to ensure the reduction in funding has minimal impact on the outcomes of the research.
At home our researchers have been doing incredible work. In June, we held our mid-term review of the research programme at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre. Our Scientific Advisory Board were extremely impressed with the progress being made at the Research Centre, with two potential new treatments heading for clinical trials, and a much clearer picture of how lifestyle factors affect a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. In Oxford, Professor Ahmed recently published exciting findings about a particular sub-group of patients who have significantly worse outcomes than others, opening a new potential area of research to develop specialised treatments for this particular group of patients.
We are delighted to see some of our researchers are now able to return safely back to the labs. While they’ve been working on analysing results and writing up papers at home, they are keen to restart experiments and move their discoveries forward.
Our next priority is securing funding to restart our three innovative new research projects which will revolutionise treatment for women with ovarian cancer.
Survival is not enough, we must thrive
Ovarian Cancer Action is not alone in how it has been impacted by Covid-19. The economic impact is being felt across the charity sector and the repercussions on research and the development of new treatments could be felt for a generation.
Cancer Research UK are projecting a loss of £300m across 3 years and have had to take tough decisions including cutting their research spend by £150m over the next 4 years. As a key funder of ovarian cancer research, this is devastating news and means specialist cancer research charities like ours will be needed more than ever to keep research moving forward.
“The discovery of new cancer treatments could be delayed, research institutes shut, and a whole generation of upcoming scientists lost because of a funding crisis in medical research, charities have warned.”The Guardian, June 2020
Despite economic uncertainty, we are determined to recover and thrive. We’re taking a two pronged approach with our fundraising: we are being agile and responding to immediate funding opportunities that will secure income quickly, whilst not taking our sight off the long-term need to secure sustainable funding partnerships across future years.
We are on a long road to recovery, but with the help of our supporters, donors and partners, we can not only bridge the £1m funding gap we expect this year, we can secure the future for ground breaking research currently on hold. This includes research that will harness the power of immunotherapy and other personalised medicine to treat ovarian cancer. And we need to be bolder still and envision a time when once again we can open up our research grant programme to new and innovative programmes that could beat this disease once and for all.
Thank you for being by our side
We understand that everybody is travelling their own pandemic journey right now, which is why we are even more grateful that you are by our side. If you are able to, please keep up your support. Whether that means donating, volunteering, or reaching out to other potential funders on our behalf, however big or small, your support is appreciated now more than ever.
Together, we can minimise the short and long-term impact of Covid-19 on women with ovarian cancer now and in the future. Thank you.
If you would like more information about any of the above, or would like to discuss your support, please contact Kevin Webb, Philanthropy Manager, who will be pleased to help.