The new IARC/WHO web presence goes live

Spherical is proud to have helped cancer research worldwide by assisting IARC/WHO in consolidating their web presence.

Why are we doing this?

IARC is the leading international cancer research agency. Due to various reasons, good and bad, worldwide cancer incidence is growing and the fight against cancer is becoming the focus of modern medical science, technology and practice. IARC's mission is not only to advance the research but also to educate the public about cancer risks, inform clinicians about new methods of treatment and prepare new generations of competent oncologists worldwide. Helping IARC's public communications is therefore a contribution to SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being.

Our task

Our task was to migrate web content and systems developed internally and by external vendors over a long period into one content management system, to develop and implement a new design for the web presence and to replicate the functionality of the old systems.


IARC's web presence was implemented using static HTML and PHP – tens of thousands of pages overall. The pages followed basic structure, but local automation, disparate mini-systems and the use of different versions of libraries made automated migration challenging.

IARC's legacy web presence evolved organically over more than 15 years. Concurrently, the world witnessed explosive growth of the web, with approaches, frameworks and libraries emerging and dying at an ever-increasing pace. The agency always tried to stay on top of technological advancements, but it didn't have the resources to update its entire ever-growing web presence to the latest technology stack. As a result, tens of thousands of pages worth of web content authored statically or generated using various database systems and technologies accumulated over time.

The agency chose WordPress as their target content management system. WordPress is a popular content management system that is known for user empowerment. At the same time, it does not offer easy or consistent interoperability and does offer a rather messy story when it comes to deeper customization. The latter was required to reimplement some of IARC's legacy systems and the very futuristic design was created by our partners from JetStyle.

Our technical approach

Manual migration of such a vast amount of content was ruled out immediately; automated migration involved precise analysis of the page structure used in various sites and sub-sites created by the agency and reverse-engineering of requirements from the behaviour of legacy database systems found in the web code. We developed a generic infrastructure layer for migration of web content and a specific interpreter for each particularity found on the web pages to be migrated.

In order to keep WordPress in check, we implemented a hosting scenario where WordPress, its database (MariaDB) and the reverse proxy (Nginx) were enclosed in Docker containers. The container set was managed using Docker Compose and the overall operational environment was set up using GNU Make. Making the WordPress theme a part of code allowed us to properly version-control its development and isolate user and developer realms.

We used the ACF plugin and its REST API to inject the migrated content into WordPress and preserve its custom structure where it was necessary for the reimplementation of the legacy database systems. These systems were reimplemented using ACF and custom post types.

As a result, the client received a WordPress-based system that is much more manageable and operationally mature than the large majority of WordPress-based systems in the world. The client did not need to migrate content by hand. The system they received was also easy to replicate for the client's other websites.

Project management

The project was managed according to PRINCE2 methodology with a custom, formally approved tailoring statement. Task management and project tracking was done in JIRA, code collaboration in GitHub. Collaboration on design between the client, developers and designers was organised using Figma.

Spherical has a distributed team and we did not have a physical presence at the client's location. To facilitate collaboration and team coherence, we set up a constantly available video meeting room in Zoom and organized regular (weekly) and ad-hoc meetings with all project stakeholders there. Minutes of meetings were routinely distributed to project stakeholders and annotated with task tracking links in JIRA. This allowed us to maintain the focus and constantly keep the finish line in sight for everyone involved.

Client testimonial

Provision of testimonials to any vendor is against the the client's internal policies. Contacts for reference checks are available upon request.