A global search for cancer's toughest challenges

7 November 2022
Sheona Scales - Head of Research, Cancer Grand Challenges

We’re leading a global conversation to help shape our next round of funding, inviting the submission of ideas via our Online Ideas Portal from now until 28 November.  

Here, Sheona Scales, Head of Research at Cancer Grand Challenges, tells us more about this opportunity.

What is a Cancer Grand Challenge?

Cancer Grand Challenges invites diverse, global teams of researchers to come together, think differently and take on some of the biggest obstacles in cancer research – those which, if solved, could lead to significant benefit for people with cancer and the wider public.   

These challenges sit in a sweet spot in terms of their ambition. They can’t be so big that they’re unsolvable, but they must be of sufficient scale that they can’t be addressed through traditional research funding mechanisms, or by one team, country or funder acting alone. Challenges can be problems that have emerged in recent years or ones that have been impenetrable for decades. They can be related to any barrier in our understanding, preventing, detecting or treating of cancer.   

Importantly, a Cancer Grand Challenge must be calling out for large-scale funding and a global team science approach to bring new thinking to the problem.   

Cancer Grand Challenges is currently inviting ideas for new challenges. What do you hope to see from this consultation?   

This will be our fourth round of identifying new challenges. Technology and research have evolved in new directions since our first round in 2015, and it will be interesting to see how this sparks new ideas and thinking in the research community. I hope that, thanks to this innovation, some obstacles that were previously thought of as too big or unsolvable could now be ripe for a Cancer Grand Challenge.   

What would you say to someone thinking of submitting a challenge idea?

We’re looking for all ideas, and the consultation process is open to anyone! We have all been affected by cancer in some way, and we want everyone to have an opportunity to share their thoughts and input to the next round of challenges. Whether you are a scientist, advocate, funder, partner or have been personally affected by cancer, we want your ideas.   

When articulating your idea, think through the progress you would hope to see if this obstacle received large-scale funding and a global team taking it on. Get input from others to help hone your articulation, and really consider impact from a variety of angles – whether that’s clinical, technological, biological or something else.   

What makes you hopeful about the future of cancer research?   

Several years ago, a close family member died of a rare, aggressive cancer. There has been little progress in that field in the intervening years, because of the scale of the challenge we face to improve our knowledge of this disease.   

I’m excited about Cancer Grand Challenges because it identifies important challenges like this and unites people to take them on together: researchers, advocates, partners. It recognises that some challenges will only be solved by bringing different minds together.   

And the pace of progress in cancer research is continuing to grow. I’m hopeful that through the work of Cancer Grand Challenges and our partners, we’ll enable more bright minds to come together across traditional geographical or disciplinary boundaries, pool their knowledge and push that change of pace even further.   

Together we’ll not only drive progress against specific challenges; we’ll also spark new collaborations and resources to drive progress and support future research around the world. Ideas captured through this process will be refined by our scientific committee into a series of tangible challenges. From March 2023, we’ll invite diverse, global teams to apply for $25m awards to take these challenges on.   

The Cancer Grand Challenges consultation is open until 28 November. Find out more and submit your idea for cancer’s toughest challenge here.