NEWSMAKER: The doctor gives his prognosis - Professor Gordon McVie, Joint director-general, Cancer Research UK


Type "Professor Gordon McVie

into the internet search engine Google and you'll be staring at 1,670 results. There's McVie on ovarian cancer treatments, McVie on genetics and cancer, McVie on "exposing

the tactics of tobacco giants, not forgetting McVie on the creation of Britain's biggest charity, Cancer Research UK.

On top of his usual role as the outspoken director of Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), the Glaswegian has just spent months marrying the organisation to its former fundraising adversary the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) and is feeling a bit "battle-worn".

The wedding took place in December but it's been a rocky honeymoon. While the CRC and ICRF had been collaborating on scientific research, fundraising and communications - McVie's responsibility in the new organisation - they had separate strategies, often pitted against each other, and distinct cultures.

"They were the opposition,

McVie comments on the ICRF. "There was no collaboration at all. The CRC team had most of the media attention and grass-roots support within local communities while the ICRF dominated the direct marketing arena and everyone felt threatened by the merger."

McVie describes what came next as a "painful but necessary

spate of redundancies, which he reckons will save the charity £3 million.

Cancer Research UK sent out 350 "at risk

notices to fundraising and communications staff across the country where it could see job duplications.

So far 60 people have gone from fundraising, while 10 communications roles have been axed. The number of jobs now "at risk

is below 100, but it's unlikely that the job cull is over.

McVie could be a casualty. Professor Andrew Miller has been appointed interim chief executive of Cancer Research UK and has another 12 or so months before the role is handed to either McVie or joint director-general, and former ICRF director, Sir Paul Nurse, who is overseeing scientific issues.

In the meantime, McVie is getting on with the task at hand: selling the new charity to existing and potential donors.

He describes as "folklore

the concept that two charities can raise more than one "because it has never been tried on this scale before. It's an experiment, but a risk worth taking".

McVie is actively playing up Cancer Research UK's massive size to corporations - which he believes are essential for funding cancer research, especially when it comes to finding the millions needed to study, for example, cancer and genetics. As he explains: "We're not going to find the cure for cancer with a bunsen burner and litmus paper."

Neither the CRC nor the ICRF gained more than 1 per cent of their voluntary income from companies but, says McVie, many blue chips approve of the merger and are showing signs of support.

"Companies are fed up with begging letters from endless cancer charities,

states McVie. "They want the clout of one charity that can really deliver on the science side. In fact, some companies told us: "Don't come back until you've merged "

Individual donors, however, might have second thoughts over how much a colossus such as Cancer Research UK needs their meagre £5. McVie is well aware of the possible danger: "The major concern is that we are perceived as being too big an organisation that can't serve individual patients and cant react fast enough - a kind of mini-government which takes 18 months to make a decision,

he states.

The joint director-general is hoping to counter this perception by, establishing a "county-based

organisation with regional press officers working at a grass-roots level.

"We're competing with 800 cancer charities, many of whom have a local feel,

he says. For McVie it is all part of a wider worry, especially for big charities, about losing the personal touch. "Charities as a whole are in danger of becoming de-personalised by using too many hi-tech funding mechanisms that no longer talk directly to people,

he warns.

Cancer Research UK targeted the young by signing up pop band Atomic Kitten as ambassadors for the new organisation last month, and will continue to publicise its research on areas such as smoking and skin cancer to this audience.

The charity has started spending its advertising budget on TV, press, and direct mailing but, says McVie, the long-term fundraising and communications strategy for Cancer Research UK won't be finalised until September or October.

He will also continue to generate publicity by being on-hand for a quote when, say, the executive chairman of British American Tobacco says he doesn't want his children to smoke, as happened recently. "It's a cheap way of getting coverage, rather than spending loads of money on advertising,

says McVie.

And what if he doesn't get the director-general's job? McVie is typically nonchalant about the possibility of giving it up but it won't be to drive his red MGB GT, walk his chocolate labrador, watch rugby, or listen to his favourite composer, Verdi.

"I'll go back to being a cancer doctor,

says the former clinical research director of the Netherlands Cancer Institute, matter of factly. "I trained for years to do it, so I'm in no hurry to give it up."


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