In May 2017, Dame Tessa Jowell, former Labour MP and Culture Secretary, was diagnosed with a grade 4 glioblastoma. During the final months of her life, Tessa selflessly dedicated her energy and efforts into campaigning for change for brain tumour treatment funding and research.
Tessa was particularly struck by
- Lack of treatment options available to patients
- Lack of progress in research and available treatment
- Inequality of access to treatment across the UK
Tessa was passionate about
- Patients having access to the “latest and greatest science”
- People coming together and unifying efforts to create change
On the 25th of January 2018, Tessa gave a moving and seminal speech in the House of Lords about her cancer diagnosis and treatment. She made a call for action and called for ‘greater collaboration’ and the use of ‘adaptive trials’ to give patients access to innovative treatments. She quoted Seamus Heaney and said: “Noli timere, do not be afraid” She followed by saying, “I am not afraid, but I am fearful that this new and important approach may be put in the ‘too difficult’ box.” She received a standing ovation.
In response to the speech, the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tasked Lord O’Shaughnessy to help make a change in combatting brain tumours. The Tessa Jowell Brain Cancer Mission was founded during a roundtable summit hosted by Tessa and the Government on the 22nd of February 2018. In the time following the roundtable, its members have taken an honest and critical look at the challenge of brain tumours in the UK and identified opportunities to make a difference.
In June 2018, Lord O’Shaughnessy (the then Under Secretary of State for Health) appointed Professor Richard Gilbertson as Chair, with the responsibility to structure the mission and set a high-level vision. Richard put in place four strategic programmes which each focus on a different subset of the challenge of brain tumours. Our areas of focus are: care for today’s patients, boosting brain tumour research, supporting clinical trial and trial infrastructure and specialist brain tumour training for clinical and medical oncologists
On 7 November 2018, TJBCM held its first offsite for all its members. Following a summer of strategic programme meetings and in-depth research and discussions, the strategic programme leads presented a set of short, medium and long term milestones. Following “peer-review” from members at the off-site, and additional feedback collected in the following weeks, the milestones for each of the programmes were further refined and approved. The milestones will now guide the work of the mission over the next three years and will be refreshed every year.
On this day, Jess Mills (daughter of Tessa Jowell) gave a beautiful speech on the importance of bringing innovation and hope to all people in the UK. The speech can be found here.
On 22 January 2019, the mission hosted a reception in the River Room in the House of Lords to commemorate the 1-year anniversary of Tessa Jowell’s speech. At this event we were able to look back and celebrate the progress of mission:
- Celebrated the national roll out of the “pink drink”, a surgical tool that makes brain tumour more visible during surgery.
- Welcomed the launch of the Tessa Jowell BRAIN-MATRIX: a ground-breaking UK-wide trial aimed at radically increasing opportunities for brain tumour patients to try non-standard treatments. The BRAIN-MATRIX is being funded with a £2.8m investment from The Brain Tumour Charity and will be led by Professor Colin Watts
- Reported good progress on the creation of dedicated neuro-oncology fellowships, which is a one-year finishing school for oncologists to specialise in brain tumours and be trained as the next generation of world-class doctors in the UK
- Announced plans to improve the pathway of care for all neuro-oncology patients across the UK, ensuring that all patients receive the same high standard of care
- Revealed plans to attract and train bright scientists, bringing new ideas and people to further grow the brain tumour research community
- Thank the Government for their pledge of the £40m brain cancer research fund in Tessa Jowell’s honour
In July 2019 the JSB decided to add two new strategic programmes. The first one is the emerging data and technology programme, which consists of a group of experts to support the other tracks on opportunities in data and technology. The second programme is the Tessa Jowell Badges for Neurocentres, which will be tasked with defining best practice patient care, clinical trial opportunities and research activity. More about these programmes can be found in the Programme pages.