Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Marie Curie Cancer Care

  I have consulted with my colleagues, Dr Peter O'Hare, Acting Director of Research at the Marie Curie Research Institute, and Dr Susie Wilkinson, Head of Caring Services Research on my reply.

  Marie Curie Cancer Care provide specialist and general palliative care to patients with cancer and other life-threatening illness, throughout the United Kingdom. Our charity operates 10 specialist palliative care units (hospices), a nationwide home palliative nursing service, and an Education service for health care professionals. The Marie Curie Research Institute in Oxted, Surrey, is responsible for a co-ordinated and peer reviewed programme of cellular and molecular research. We also operate a burgeoning Palliative Care Research & Development Unit within the Royal Free and University College Medical School (Hampstead).

  Clinical palliative care research is still at an embryonic stage within the UK and we feel that the emerging Cancer Research Networks are ideally placed to increase awareness of the need for more structured research into palliative care, and to encourage this as a focus for future research. I am aware that a few Cancer Research Networks have palliative care clinicians on their steering groups, but would welcome their inclusion being formally recommended, in order that all aspects of the patient's cancer journey may be identified as potential areas for research.

  It would be marvellous if the Cancer Research Networks could achieve a broadening of cancer research programmes beyond the current objectives in therapeutic drug trials, to include areas such as palliative care, psycho-social oncology, cancer nursing and other important—but often neglected—areas of research. As you might expect, Marie Curie Cancer Care would advocate the development of a Palliative Care Research Network and would welcome an increase in the funding available for palliative care research.

  In respect of developments vis-a"-vis the Virtual National Cancer Research Institute and its relationship with the Cancer Research Funders' Forum, we would like to comment as follows:

  The evolution of the NCRI from the previous UK Cancer Research Funders Forum is now complete. Membership, secretariat and operational issues have been dealt with in speedy and efficient fashion, with the main aim of being an inclusive organisation, whilst maintaining a streamlined and effective executive. The NCRI key objectives have been established. The immediate major aim is the definition of a Common Scientific Outline (CSO) for all UK cancer research and the establishment of a Cancer Research Database, which will yield a proper and accurate overview of the current position. This is not just an information gathering exercise the benefit of which will be difficult to establish. This is an extremely worthwhile and important component of the initial NCRI goals. It is also not a straightforward task. But it is clear that the NCRI are establishing a very open dialogue with the main cancer funders. They have sought and gained valuable insight into the procedures and pitfalls from their NCI colleagues in the US, and will be in a position to present the CRD early in the New Year. It is not unlikely that this will need refining, but to date they have achieved a great deal.

  Long term goals include the establishment of large scale resources, firstly in tumour banks, and later in major areas such as bioinformatics, cancer genome anatomy, animal models and so on. These are certainly ambitious and long-term objectives. There are major hurdles to be overcome if it is to be done correctly and be useful. But, if supported and ambitions are met, these outcomes will be of very considerable benefit to the research community and to cancer patients in the longer term.

  NCRN Cancer Networks are also now firmly established, with additional Networks, (such as one for Palliative Care Research, which is of particular interest to Marie Curie Cancer Care) being organised. Communication again appears to be very good, and the NCRN and the NCRI will be in a position to be able to provide initial assessment of the key measures they are trying to promote, including for example a very tangible increase in the numbers of patients being enrolled in clinical trials in some areas, by mid to end 2002.

  Clear progress has been made in the initial phases of NCRI and NCRN. We await the coming year with expectation and enthusiasm for sustained advances towards meeting well established aims.

Dr Teresa Tate

Medical Adviser

5 December 2001

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