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'Poem on a pill' cuts cancer down to size

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, has commissioned newly-appointed Poet Laureate Simon Armitage to write a poem and for micro-engraver Graham Short to carve this onto a pill, symbolising our goal to ‘finish’ cancer by turning it into a manageable disease.

The poem eloquently expresses the magnitude of our ambition to outsmart cancer and the incredible research journey that will take place in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery.

But, we still need an additional £5m in donations to complete the building and to enable our scientists to be able to start their urgent work in finishing cancer. You can make a donation here, or to find out more, please contact Hannah Joyce in the Philanthropy team.

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Watch Poet Laureate Simon Armitage recite his latest poem - Finishing It.

When finished, the Centre will see a new collaboration of hundreds of our scientists from different disciplines come together to lead an unprecedented ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery programme. Here we aim to overcome cancer’s ability to adapt and evolve resistance to drugs. This could turn cancer into a manageable disease that can be controlled long term and effectively cured. 

Drawing inspiration from the work that we will undertake in the new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery, Simon’s poem – his second as Poet Laureate – heralds the discovery of new, innovative and ground-breaking drugs and treatments, while symbolising the hope that this world-first combination of scientists can bring to patients. 

The poem

Entitled Finishing It, Simon’s poem, and the micro-engraving, convey the incredible precision science that underpins a new generation of cancer treatments to be explored by our scientists in the new Centre:

Finishing it

I can’t configure
a tablet 
chiselled by God’s finger

or forge
a scrawled prescription,
but here’s an inscription, formed

on the small white dot
of its own
full stop,

the sugared pill
of a poem, one sentence
that speaks ill

of illness itself, bullet
with cancer’s name
carved brazenly on it. 

Engraving the poem

The verses have been micro-engraved onto a replica anti-cancer pill by specialist artist Graham Short, reflecting the precision science that will take place in our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery. The pill will be displayed permanently in the new centre when it opens.

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage holding pill with engraved poem


“Science and poetry are closer associates than many people assume, and it was exciting to work on a project that deals with cutting edge medical research. And like science, poetry is a “what if” activity, imagining outcomes and possibilities based creative thinking. 

“I liked the sense that poem and pill might collaborate to produce both a medical and emotional cure, and that something so minimalist could aim to bring down something so enormous and destructive. I experimented for a long time with the language - the shortest poems are always the hardest to write, their smallness making them so much more conspicuous and vulnerable.”

– Poet Laureate Simon Armitage



Dr Olivia Rossanese


“The poem beautifully shares our story and symbolises the hope of what’s to come, the message made more powerful by being engraved onto a pill that represents the kinds of treatments that we will be developing in the very near future.” 

– Dr Olivia Rossanese, Head of Biology in the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery


Find out more about our revolutionary new building in which we aim to transform the future of cancer treatment and please donate to support the vital research that will take place there.

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Help fund exciting programme of research in our new Centre

Our researchers have now moved in to the Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery to start their urgent work on creating more and better drugs for cancer patients.

NEWS: ICR launches ‘Let’s finish it’ campaign for Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery

We have revealed our plans for one of the world’s most important buildings for the discovery of revolutionary cancer treatments. In this truly collaborative environment and through our ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery programme, we aim to create more and better drugs for cancer patients and overcome the problem of cancer evolution and drug resistance.

Cancer's last note

We have teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to create an ‘unfinished symphony’ for cancer research – to raise funds to complete a revolutionary new research building. Our new Centre for Cancer Drug Discovery will be one of the world’s most important buildings, discovering treatments that aim to turn cancer into a disease that can be controlled long term and effectively cured.