The incredibly successful partnership between Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon and Cancer Focus NI came to an end in September 2022 having raised an unbelievable £245k for the official charity partner.
The impressive total will undoubtedly make a significant impact on a unique research project the charity is funding at Queens University, Belfast. The research aims to determine how immunotherapy can more successfully treat oesophageal and pancreatic cancers, which currently have extremely low survival rates.
The partnership success has been a huge highlight and triumph during periods of uncertainty over the past 3 years with the COVID pandemic causing the cancellation of the marathon in 2020 and the change of date to the autumn in 2021, yet the people of Antrim and Northern Ireland persevered and continued their efforts to train, take part and raise vital funds that will make a lasting difference locally.
Speaking about the importance of the charity partnership, Claire O’Neill, Executive Manager at Belfast City Marathon detailed:
“We’re so proud of each and every participant that ran, wheeled, or walked to raise vital funds for Cancer Focus NI through the Mash Direct Belfast City Marathon events and proved that we are #strongertogether. All the money raised will stay in Northern Ireland and will fund pioneering research looking at the treatment of oesophageal and pancreatic cancer – two cancers which at present have very low survival rates.
“Recently, the Belfast City Marathon team had the honour of visiting the research lab to learn more about the research that the partnership has been funding and meet the team who are making a huge difference to the lives of cancer patients. We cannot thank our participants enough for allowing us to support this vital work, happening right here in Northern Ireland.”
Explaining the impact that the relationship has had on cancer research in Northern Ireland, Dr Richard Turkington, Clinical Reader at Queen’s University Belfast stated:
“Oesophageal cancer is too often detected late and is resistant to treatment. With support from everyone who participated in the Belfast City Marathon and raised money for Cancer Focus NI, we have been working to diagnose oesophageal cancer at an early stage before it has spread and to discover new ways to treat this disease.
“In the last few years, a new type of treatment which can harness the body’s own immune system to attack cancer has been introduced for oesophageal cancer. Called immunotherapy, this treatment can be highly effective in shrinking cancers but only works in around a fifth of patients.
"We have been working to identify new treatments which will enable immunotherapy to work in the remaining 80% of patients who currently cannot benefit from this therapy. Although, in its early stages we already have identified promising genes which, when targeted, could enhance the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatment.
“We also showed that during the pandemic the rates of diagnosis of oesophageal cancer fell by a third with the number of cases of its earlier non-malignant stage, called Barrett’s oesophagus, falling by almost two-thirds. In part this was due to the suspension of camera tests to diagnose these conditions due to the increased risk of Covid-19 infection they presented for staff carrying out the procedure.
"The money raised from the Cancer Focus runners and walkers has supported our work in introducing a lower-risk, less invasive ‘sponge test’ to detect Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer and reduce waiting lists for testing. Most importantly the test is quicker and more comfortable for patients compared to the standard camera test.
“None of this work would be possible without the generous support from everyone who took part in the Belfast City Marathon in aid of Cancer Focus NI and together we are making a difference in the diagnosis and treatment of oesophageal cancer now and in the future.”
Reflecting on the last 3 years of partnership, Richard Spratt, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus NI said:
“Working alongside the team at Belfast City Marathon has been a fantastic experience and we can’t thank them enough for choosing Cancer Focus NI as their charity partner. We also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who ran for Cancer Focus NI and raised money to fund our local research, we could not do this ground-breaking work without your support.”
For more information on the Cancer Focus NI immunotherapy research project, please visit https://cancerfocusni.org/research/current-research/
Cancer Focus NI make an enormous difference to local families who are living with cancer and avail of our vital support services. These services include counselling, family support, specialist bra fitting, art therapy and a patient driving service. The charity offers a range of health improvement services including the Keeping Well vans, stop smoking service, schools' programmes, and skin cancer prevention work, and also funds local pioneering research at Queen’s University Belfast.