LONDON ¿ The two largest cancer charities in the UK plan to merge, creating the largest independent cancer research organization in the world with an annual budget of #130 million (US$190 million) and a team of 3,000 researchers.

The merged body, Cancer Research UK, will combine the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC). The former concentrates on discovery activities, while the latter is a leader in drug development and a major funder of clinical trials. The two say that bringing together these complementary strands will speed the time it takes to get new treatments from the lab to the clinic.

Cancer Research UK will be able to optimize fund-raising activities and will train more cancer scientists, doctors and nurses. The number of administrative and support staff will be cut by 130, but no scientific posts will be lost. The new charity intends to be more active internationally ¿ both on the fund-raising side and by giving grants to scientists outside the UK.

Paul Nurse, director general of the ICRF, who this month was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, welcomed the merger, saying that cancer research was at a crossroads. ¿The fact is that we are now, given the advances in biology and medicine, particularly molecular genetics and molecular biology, at a point where we can really begin to understand the nature of this very complex disease.

¿The unraveling of the human genome has brought us enormous opportunities,¿ he said. ¿Combining forces will give us the impetus to turn the potential of the genetic revolution into the reality of new drugs and treatments and better ways to prevent disease.¿

The Charity Commission, which oversees charities in the UK, supported the merger. The chief commissioner, John Stoker, said charities could get better results and better value by combining their efforts. ¿[The merger] will hopefully encourage all charities to consider whether they can work better for beneficiaries by cooperating in a variety of ways, including mergers with others in appropriate cases.¿ There are about 800 other cancer charities in the UK.

The director general of the CRC, Gordon McVie, said advances in medical science have created an unprecedented opportunity. ¿I¿m certain that together our organizations can make even faster progress and believe that within the lifetimes of my sons and their children, we will have cancer under control.¿

ICRF has laboratories in London, Cambridge and Clare Hall, Hertfordshire; clinical research centers in Oxford and Leeds; and seven hospital units. The CRC funds 10 clinical units around the UK. Both the CRC and the ICRF have commercial subsidiaries for technology transfer.

The merger brings the wheel full circle ¿ the ICRF and the CRC began life as a single organization, the Cancer Research Fund, founded in 1902. It was the first independent institute in Europe devoted to cancer research, focusing on the basic biology of normal and malignant tissue. In 1923 a group of doctors who were unhappy about the lack of clinical relevance broke away to form the CRC.