Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund


  The support for clinical cancer research in the NHS is improving through the funding, from NHS R&D, of the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN) directed by Professor Peter Selby and the National Translational Research Network (NTRAC), directed by Professor David Kerr. The establishment of the NCRN is well in hand, that for the NTRAC slower as the call to establish the first centres has only just gone out. Early evidence suggests that progress with NCRN is good. The target of doubling the number of patients entering clinical trials is demanding and it will be a matter of time before we can see if this is achievable or the funding sufficient.

  One key factor in increasing the patients in cancer clinical trials is the funding of the trials themselves. In this area the Cancer Research Campaign is working with the Medical Research Council to form a common assessment panel for the peer review of clinical trials being put forward for funding from the clinical research community, particularly from the tumour-specific sub-groups established under the NCRI and building on the excellent work of UKCCCR (see below). In addition the panel will assess the trials coming forward for support within the NCRN which do not require external additional funding, but to ensure that only high quality trials make use of NCRN resources. A key to the success of this common assessment panel will be the routing through it by the MRC of its monies for cancer clinical trials—we anticipate that this will be achieved so providing the clinical trials community with a common route to potential funding.

  A critical negative factor affecting clinical cancer research is in relation to academic research-active clinical staff. Here two key issues need to be addressed. One is the provision of adequate training schemes to generate research orientated clinician-scientists. To achieve this more flexibility is required from the Royal Colleges in their formal professional training schemes to recognise the importance of research training and allow time for it. Secondly that academic clinical cancer research is seen as an attractive career both in terms of remuneration (when compared with NHS consultants and including their income from private practice) and protection from the pressures of the routine NHS service load. Neither of these have been adequately addressed and until they are there will be difficulty in generating and retaining the type of research-active clinician required to drive up treatment standards and therefore increase cure rates for cancer. At present there is great difficulty in filling cancer clinical chairs; in the last 6 months there has been failure to make an appointment to at least two highly regarded oncology chairs. The Committee will be aware that across the UK's medical schools one in seven clinical chairs remain unfilled.


  The transition from the Cancer Research Funders Forum to the National Cancer Research Institute took place on 1 April 2001, and with it the very real spirit of co-operation and working together that had characterised CRFF. As this was happening funding for NCRN and NTRAC was developing and oversight of these activities moved into NCRI. Associated with this was the `retirement' of the UK Co-ordinating Committee for Cancer Research with its functions being taken on by NCRI and particularly the very successful tumour-site-specific groups so important for the generation of cancer trial protocols.

  The CRFF members have formed the nucleus of the NCRI and membership is now being extended to other relevant bodies. An Administrative Director—Dr Liam O'Toole—was appointed in the summer and the Committee might usefully contact him for details (if you have not already done so) of current activity and future work plan. In brief the NCRI is:

    —  establishing a common database and classification of cancer research across the UK which will be compatible with other international systems;

    —  continuing the prostate cancer initiative funded by DH, CRC, ICRF and MRC under the auspices of CRFF;

    —  overseeing the establishment and operation of NCRN and NTRAC;

    —  establishing the protocol for, and joint support of, a national cancer clinical trials tumour sample collection;

    —  establishing a close working relationship with the NCI in the USA. A very successful joint meting with the Director and other senior staff of NCI was held in April to identify areas for transatlantic co-operation;

    —  undertaking a review of radiobiology and radiation science research to establish the extent of research in the UK and funding trends, the international status of UK research, the areas for future development and the capacity of the UK to support these.

  The Cancer Research Campaign is very positive about the NCRI and its ability to bring the various funders together and contribute to truly joint activities across the UK. The first 6 months must be regarded as very successful.


  This remains a major concern and the potential negative impact of proposed legislation on the ability to conduct epidemiological-type research. For a detailed appraisal I would refer the Committee to expert opinion like Professor Michel Coleman.


  The Cancer Research Campaign has limited direct experience of interacting with the treatment networks, but understands that their establishment is proceeding at different rates across the health regions. The cancer research networks, NCRN and NTRAC are dealt with above.

  In summary, the report from the Science and Technology Committee generated much interest and `food for thought' in the cancer research community. It came at a time when there was growing appreciation of the need for the funders of cancer research to work more closely together to maximise the UK's effort and provided a further stimulus to this. An area of potential concern, and variable interaction, is with the devolved assemblies; the UK is too small for there not to be truly UK-wide co-ordination and interaction. Finally, the Committee will not be unaware that two ICRF-funded researchers shared in this year's Nobel Prize for Medicine and that the CRC and ICRF are at the final stages of a possible merger.

6 December 2001

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