Intended for healthcare professionals


Gordon McVie: medical oncologist who helped drive the formation of Cancer Research UK

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 26 February 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n570
  1. Janet Fricker
  1. Hemel Hempstead, UK
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Gordon McVie, the medical oncologist who helped orchestrate the merger of the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) to form Cancer Research UK (CRUK), was a vociferous spokesman for patients with cancer. A “master of the media soundbite,” with an unerring ability to describe the most technical aspects of medicine in 15 seconds, McVie held the overriding belief that clinicians and researchers should put patients at the centre of everything they do. Renowned for his optimism, he also played pivotal roles in oncology drug development, and was an international “fixer,” bringing together oncology experts from across the globe.

“What’s so remarkable about Gordon is that his vision was so broad. None of us is a prophet, but my goodness he could see further than anyone I have ever met,” said Richard Sullivan, the director of the Institute of Cancer Policy at King’s College, London, and former clinical director of CRUK under McVie. “He saw the potential of social media and new online communication platforms decades before anyone else, and was as comfortable discussing deep cancer science as he was arguing policy. Above all, Gordon was a champion for patients and the public good. He was a hard, bloody minded advocate who never gave an inch to politicians.”

In 2002, as director general of the CRC, McVie, together with Paul Nurse, who led ICRF, championed the merger of the two charities to form CRUK, the largest charity in the world funding cancer research. Historically, the two charities had been rivals operating in distinctly different ways. CRC awarded grants to individual researchers who worked in academic departments, whereas ICRF owned its own research laboratories and employed scientists. “I had the initial idea, feeling it wasn’t very helpful to have the two organisations competing on the high street for …

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