Making A Difference

Making Rapid Progress in the Fight Against Cancer

Sir Harpal Kumar (MBA 1991)

Sir Harpal Kumar (MBA 1991) is CEO of Cancer Research UK, which is the world’s second largest cancer research organization. In this video, he talks about the challenges facing cancer researchers and doctors around world and offers an optimistic view of the opportunities to improve treatment outcomes in the coming years.

“I lead an organization called Cancer Research UK, which is, outside the US government, the largest cancer research organization in the world. And what that requires us to do is to think about every aspect of what it is we’re trying to achieve, how we’re going to go about it, what’s our strategy for doing so, how we’re going to partner with organizations around the world, and how we build and motivate a team of scientists, doctors, as well as fundraisers, to deliver that mission collectively.

“If I give you the UK statistics, anyone born since 1960 now has greater than 1 in 2 chance of developing cancer in their lifetimes. That’s pretty similar to the figures here in the US and in most of the western world. But actually the largest growth in the number of cancer cases are happening in emerging economies, like China and India. So what we’re seeing is an explosion of the cancer problem around the world. Our projections are that by 2030, 15 million people a year will be dying of cancer. So that’s the problem we’re dealing with.

“The opportunity we’re dealing with is that, actually, we’re making tremendous progress. So now more than 1 in 2 people will survive a diagnosis of cancer. And that’s come from fewer than 1 in 4 about 40 years ago.

“The question is, how do we go from where we have made progress to tackling some of the more, what have been, intractable challenges, over the last 30 or 40 years? And for me, the biggest opportunity is in how we can detect cancer earlier. We know that for the majority of people who develop cancer, the earlier we can detect it, the greater the chances of successful treatment.

“I don’t think we will ever eradicate cancer. However, what I think is absolutely achievable is that the vast majority of people who develop cancer will survive from it. In some cases, they will be completely cured. And in other cases, they’ll be able to manage it as more of a chronic disease.

“Things are moving at an ever-accelerating pace, and I think we have every reason to feel very optimistic about the coming years.”

(Published March 2017)

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