Joining forces. British cancer charities are considering a merger.

U.K. Cancer Funders May Unite

A giant funding agency akin to the U.S. National Cancer Institute may be in store for British cancer research. Trustees of the two largest private cancer charities in Britain--the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC)--met yesterday to discuss future collaboration plans, including a full merger.

The organizations stress that the talks are at an "exploratory" stage, and that several levels of collaboration are being considered. A full merger would improve efficiency, says ICRF director general Paul Nurse: "Facilities are very expensive, and the best solution may be to pool our resources." In addition, one national organization would be better able to train young researchers and would give cancer research a stronger voice, Nurse says.

Currently, there's little overlap in what the charities do: The ICRF, with an annual research expenditure of $96 million, conducts research at its main institute in London and at its own clinical research units throughout the U.K., while the CRC acts mainly as a granting agency that spends about $94 million a year on research projects across the country.

Scientists welcomed the possible merger. "There has always been a balance between competition and duplication, and a major effect of any merger will be increased coordination," says David Lane, head of a research unit into the molecular basis of human cancer at the University of Dundee, who gets funding from the CRC. But Lane worries that a combined charity may not rake in as many donations as two separate ones.

A preliminary report about the road ahead will be presented to the organizations' councils later this month. A final decision is not expected until later this year.

Related sites

The Imperial Cancer Research Fund

The Cancer Research Campaign