Skip to main content

The Rausings donate another SEK 20 million to breast cancer research at Karolinska Institutet

Märit and Hans Rausing are donating an additional SEK 20 million to breast cancer research at Karolinska Institutet. The donation is earmarked for the Karma project, which received SEK 50 million from the couple three years ago, and which has made considerable scientific strides.

Since 2009, a major international project has been underway in which scientists have been studying the genes and genetic mutations that influence the risk of breast cancer. The results from these joint studies have recently been published in a special issue of Nature Genetics, and a few days ago early results from the Karmas study were published showing very positive effects of relapse-preventive breast cancer therapy. The work done so far has prepared the ground for further important research – hence the additional support from the Rausings.

To date, over 70,000 women have signed up for Karma, which is one of the largest breast cancer projects in the world. By finding the women who run a higher risk of breast cancer and offering them means of prevention, the scientists aim to greatly decrease the number of women who succumb to the disease.

“Märit and Hans Rausing’s breast cancer initiative means a great deal to our research and our chances of reducing breast cancer incidence and mortality,” says Karma study leader Professor Per Hall. “The results of the studies that we’ve just released are very important steps along the way.”

Breast cancer is currently one of the most common forms of cancer amongst women in the West, where some 4 million individuals live with the diagnosis. Eight thousand new cases are discovered annually in Sweden alone, which means that one woman in every nine will be struck by the disease, which claims 1,400 lives every year.

Hans Rausing’s mother and maternal grandmother both died of breast cancer, and his father, Ruben Rausing, devoted himself to developing a cure. Ruben Rausing was also one of the early backers of the idea of the foundation that would eventually become the Swedish Cancer Society. Märit and Hans Rausing’s new eight-figure donation is linked to the research successes now presented.

“We think it’s particularly important to support research that can bring such great relief to so many people in such a short space of time,” says Märit Rausing. “Breast cancer affects not only the women who are diagnosed with the disease but everyone around them too. And society at large has much to gain from this as well.”

“The Rausing’s generosity means that we can build unique scientific competence in the breast cancer field,” says Karolinska Institutet vice-chancellor Professor Anders Hamsten. “Their support will open avenues for diagnostic and treatment breakthroughs for millions of women around the world.”

Mustering resources against breast cancer

Karolinska Institutet has received a donation of 50 million kronor from Märit and Hans Rausing for a large-scale research project on breast cancer. The overall objective of the project, which will be one of the most extensive cancer projects in the world, is to reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 40 to 50 per cent.

“We are very happy to be donating money to the fight against breast cancer, especially in light of our own family history,” says Märit Rausing. “Hans’s mother and grandmother both died of the disease, and his father, Ruben, put considerable effort into finding a cure. Of course, it’s also important when you think that breast cancer is one of the most common diseases.”

Some 4 million women in the West have been diagnosed with breast cancer, making it currently the most common form of cancer in this demographic. In Sweden alone, 7,000 new cases are discovered every year, which means that one in nine women will develop the disease, which claims 1,500 lives every year.

“If we’re to prevent healthy individuals from falling sick, we need to know the causative factors,” says Professor Per Hall, who will be co-leading the study with Professor Jonas Bergh. “This, in turn, will make it possible to take more effective preventative measures, from changing a behaviour to medical treatment.”

In recent years, effective preventative measures have proved highly successful in many areas of medicine, such as heart disease. Unfortunately, similar progress has not been made for cancer. Now, with the Märit and Hans Rausing breast cancer initiative, Karolinska Institutet is confident that advances can be made by focusing on the healthy individual and the early stages of the disease.

“Karolinska Institutet’s research world-unique competencies in the field were, of course, a key deciding factor in our choice of recipient,” says Hans Rausing. “But it was also important to put the money into a research project that we know will quickly convert its results into new treatment methods and thus be of benefit to both healthcare and the wider community.”

Karolinska Institutet’s president, Professor Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, welcomes the initiative: “The Rausings’ generous donation will enable us to muster our resources for a study that will generate information that is unique in the world, and that will give scientists fantastic new opportunities to make breakthroughs in the diagnosis and treatment of the millions of women who are living with, or will be affected by breast cancer,” she says.

About the donors

Hans Rausing was CEO and/or chairman of the family-owned company Tetra Pak, later Tetra Laval, for 37 years.

Märit and Hans Rausing live in Wadhurst Park in England. Over the years they have donated generously to charity, particularly for the benefit of medical research. Their interest in breast cancer is inspired by its being a common disease and by the fact that members of their own family have suffered from it.

Hans Rausing’s father, Ruben Rausing, was deeply committed to finding a cure for his wife’s cancer, and remained active in the field long after her death. He collaborated with and supported researchers, and in 1949 wrote a monograph on his hypotheses titled Reflections on Cancer. He also was one of the first to back the proposal to establish what is now the Swedish Cancer Society.

The Märit and Hans Rausing breast cancer initiative

The effective prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a disease require knowledge of the factors that cause it. Many such factors are known to science today regarding the risk of developing breast cancer in later life, such as number of children, age at first delivery, breast-feeding, the use of HRT, physical exercise and alcohol consumption. Twin studies and studies of individuals with a family history of cancer tell us that breast cancer has a hereditary cause. However, only a few of the genes that give rise to breast cancer are known to science, and much more research needs to be done to map all the genetic mutations that contribute to the risk of developing it.

One factor currently in use to assess the risk of developing breast cancer is the density of the breast. This property is measured using mammography and relates to connective and glandular tissue: the more such tissue there is, the greater the risk of breast cancer. A woman with dense breasts and who has passed the menopause runs four to six times the risk of developing cancer than a woman with non-dense breasts.

Karolinska Institutet has unique opportunities for the successful implementation of the large-scale Märit and Hans Rausing breast cancer initiative. Karolinska Institutet not only possesses world-leading expertise in breast cancer, it also has access, through its biobanks, to blood and tissue from a large number of breast cancer patients. This internationally unique material makes it possible for scientists to make detailed study of the factors that are critical to the development and course of the disease, and therefore essential to its prevention, diagnosis and treatment.