Today the British Association of Cancer Research is the largest British-based cancer society with a membership of almost 1,200. The Association was formed in 1960, primarily on the initiative of Sir Alexander Haddow, the then Director of the Chester Beatty Research Institute, when a group of cancer researchers and clinicians met to found the British Association for Cancer Research (BACR). Haddow’s vision was that an association, embracing all aspects of cancer research, would provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and discoveries that could be focused into patient benefit. Today these aims and ideals are achieved by educational and training opportunities for all those involved in the cancer field, particularly the next generation of cancer research professionals, and the Association now functions in a very different way from that established 50 years ago. The change in role is also a reflection of the changes in the organisation of cancer research within Britain, particularly the prominence of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) and Cancer Research UK.
In the early years the Association, through annual meetings, provided a forum that facilitated the dissemination of new discoveries and advances, and the interchange of ideas among workers in all branches of cancer research. It became apparent, however, that annual meetings alone were an insufficient forum to fulfill the primary aims of the Association, and biannual meetings, symposia and workshops became a regular part of the Association’s activities. The working of the Association became more professional in 1982 when an agreement with the Institute of Biology established a secretariat. This was further enhanced in 1997 when an anonymous donation of $1M enabled the Association to establish a permanent secretariat at the Institute of Cancer Research. The 1990s also marked major developments in the organization and running of the Association. Successful meetings began to generate significant reserves allowing the Association to support travel bursaries and workshops. A more professional accounting system was introduced and subscriptions were collected by direct debit.
The 40th Annual Meeting held in Edinburgh, jointly with ACP and BOA, became the “British Cancer Research Meeting” (BCRM) and its success became the role model for future meetings. From its early days BACR had always had prestigious Award Lectures as a key part of its annual meetings. Whilst the nature of some of the original awards may have now changed to support Fellowships and Bursaries, several of the Award Lectures remain as important features, enhancing the international standing of the meeting. Further changes occurred in 2004 with the instigation of the NCRI Cancer Conference, which replaced the BCRM and incorporated BACR Award Lectures. At this time the Association focussed further on specialist meetings and, particularly through the website and biannual newsletters, ensuring that members were aware of and had access to the various awards made by the Association. The more recent affiliation with the European Association for Cancer Research has been particularly successful and has further broadened the scope of scientific meetings and activities available to members.