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Selfless scientist gives away fortune she earned from patenting life-saving cancer drug

A selfless scientist has given away the £865,000 royalties she received for helping to create a groundbreaking ovarian cancer drug.

For the last 29 years, Professor Nicola Curtin has been working hard to create a medicine which would help kill tumours in cancer patients.

The 65-year-old was part of a talented team at Newcastle University who produced Rubraca – a new cancer drug which has been approved for use on the NHS.

She has now decided to use the £865,000 royalties which she received from Newcastle University to transform the lives of disadvantaged people and help them get into work or training.

Nicola, who has worked at the university since 1982, has used the money to set up The Curtin PARP (Passionate About Realising your Potential) Fund at the Community Foundation.

Nicola, who lives in Gosforth, Newcastle, said: “I don’t need the money. To me it’s as much of a burden as it is a benefit.

Professor Nicola Curtin, 65 who has given away the £865,000 royalties she received for helping to create a groundbreaking ovarian cancer drug (Photographer: North News / NNP)

‘Maybe I could buy another house but that’s another house to clean!

‘I live quite modestly and I can’t see my lifestyle suddenly becoming more extravagant.

‘It’s just like having a lottery win. I could have worked just as hard for as many years and there have been no drug came out of it.

‘I’m paid for working really hard.

‘Like most scientists, it’s not the money that drives me, it’s the intellectual challenge and the buzz I get from finding something out before anyone else knows it.

‘I love interacting with the students and turning them into scientists – that’s rewarding itself.

‘I have got a daughter and she’s got a job and she’s married to somebody who has got a job. She’s happy and she’s secure financially herself. She thinks the fund is a great idea.

‘I know that life is very unfair and people are at disadvantages and those people may have talents that could be exploited for a little bit of money.

Sandra King (left), chief philanthropy officer at the Community Foundation and Helen Goddard, (centre) daughter of Nicola Curtin and an advisor to the fund (Photographer: North News / NNP)

‘The opportunity and aim of this fund is to give them those opportunities. Not only will it help them but it’s good for the country. It’s not good for the country if we’re wasting talent.’

Nicola said that she decided she wanted to work in medical research when she was around 15 years old.

She said: ‘I wanted to do something that would improve people’s health but I didn’t want to work with sick people directly.

‘Working with cancer is really interesting, it’s intellectually challenging.

‘I like the thinking part of it. It’s like a detective situation when you’re trying to get to the bottom of it.’

Nicola said she was working on creating much weaker drugs before discovering how effective Rubraca was in treating ovarian cancer.

Once they had proved that the drug worked, Newcastle University sold six years worth of royalties to Sagard Healthcare Royalty Partners for £31m.

The cancer drug Rubraca

The university had an agreement in which inventors such as Nicola would get money back from the sale.

She said: ‘Rubraca has proved to be effective in around 50 to 55% of ovarian cancers.

‘It kills the tumour cells while leaving the normal tissue relatively unaffected.

‘It’s really changed the way we think about treating cancer cells.

‘There’s a possibility that it may even benefit people with prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer.’

The charitable fund, which is named after the drug, will support a range of activities to help people to develop the skills, talents and confidence to overcome barriers to employment or education.

Priority will be given to carers, black and minority ethnic people, disabled people, homeless people and people who are experiencing disadvantage that prevents them from realising their potential.

Sandra King, Chief Philanthropy Officer at the Community Fund, said: ‘We’re delighted to celebrate the generosity of Professor Nicola Curtin, as the Curtin PARP Fund is officially open for applications at the Community Foundation.

‘Her generosity is incredible – a truly inspiring philanthropist who should be recognised for her generous contribution to society.

‘Not only has Professor Curtin had a hugely successful career that has changed lives and improved health, but she is sharing the proceeds of her success to help people overcome barriers and realise their full potential.”

The Curtin PARP Fund at the Community Foundation is now open for applications in 2019, with a deadline of Monday December 2.

It will reopen in mid-January for the 2020 round, receiving applications at any point throughout the year.


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