We fund the highest quality research into primary bone cancer and to ensure this happens we follow a rigorous review process. This process includes an Independent Scientific Advisory Panel (ISAP) and we had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Pam Kearns, Chair of our ISAP. Pam explains more about the role of ISAP and how they determine which projects are recommended for funding.

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I’m a Professor of Clinical Paediatric Oncology at the University of Birmingham, I work as a consultant in Paediatric Oncology at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. I’m also a Director of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Birmingham, which means I’m responsible for an academic unit that designs and delivers clinical trials. One of our largest portfolios is the children’s cancer trials with 43 trials currently active. More recently I started a new role as President of the European Society of Paediatric Oncology, which is an organisation representing all professionals working in the field of Paediatric Oncology across Europe.

What is ISAP and the aims of the panel?

The Independent Scientific Advisory Panel (ISAP) is a panel of experts with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise covering science, clinical oncology and patient perspective. There are 6 members on the panel and we jointly review funding applications submitted to the Bone Cancer Research Trust. Our aim is to ensure we look at applications for funding to make sure they are scientifically sound, feasible to deliver and fulfil the aims of the charity to ultimately improve the outcomes for patients.

How did you get involved with BCRT and ISAP?

A colleague, who was the ISAP Chair at the time made me aware of the Bone Cancer Research Trust and suggested I joined the panel. I joined in April 2013 and became Chair December 2016. By joining the panel, I could bring my knowledge of science and clinical aspects of bone cancer treatment. I don’t directly do research into bone tumours, but I have an interest in this area, therefore I could bring my experience and knowledge to the panel without there being a conflict of interest with the applicants.

What is your role in ISAP?

My role as Chair of the panel is to ensure every applicant gets a good and fair review and to ensure that only the highest quality scientific research gets funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust.

I work very closely with Dr Zoe Davison, Head of Research and Information at the Bone Cancer Research Trust to coordinate the meetings and to review the minutes and outputs.

As Chair of the panel I really appreciate everything the panel members do. They are incredibly thorough and want to ensure that it is the best researchers who are funded and, in a caring way, they support the younger researchers who are coming through to deliver high quality research for bone cancer. They really are the most incredibly dedicated and committed panel.

How do you feel about being a member of ISAP and working alongside BCRT?

I feel privileged to be part of the Bone Cancer Research Trust’s ISAP, it’s a great charity. There isn’t enough research done into bone cancer and to be working with a charity that are so committed to this field and to working with the best scientists and best clinicians to find ways to improve outcomes is fantastic. You get to see some excellent science coming through, it’s a huge privilege and a great charity to work with.

One of the really nice things about the Bone Cancer Research Trust is it really wants to promote the best research for bone cancer through its funding, and if we have a good robust project that ultimately might have future benefits for patients they will look at every possibility to find a way to fund it.

How does the panel determine which research projects are fundable?

The most fundamental and important part is to have a clear research question. We need to know what is the question the researcher is trying to answer and the background to why they think it’s a good research question alongside a very clear description of the experiments they plan to do to answer that question.

Remember to…

Be realistic… If it’s a two-year project, what can you realistically achieve in that time?

Clearly explain… What are the steps involved?

Provide clarity… Where is the project going in the future?

Think design… Use statistics and have a discussion with a statistician before applying

We also don’t just look at what they say they are going to do but also have they got the expertise within their team to do it, what’s their track record, and that’s really important!

In some grant rounds we may receive eight applications and there is only funding available for two, therefore we must be very rigorous in our approach and it isn’t about someone deciding which is their favourite project. The projects are all carefully scored against benchmarks. Sometimes there can be really good projects but this time round there just isn’t enough funding available within the charity. Then the charity does look to see what can be done at a future date.