Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the National Cancer Research Institute

PROGRESS IN DEVELOPING THE VIRTUAL NATIONAL CANCER RESEARCH INSTITUTE; ITS PRODUCTIVITY AND RELATIONSHIP WITH THE CANCER RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

PROGRESS IN DEVELOPING NCRI

  The NCRI was formally established on 1 April 2001. I was appointed as Administrative Director, at the end of July 2001. Selection and interview was by a joint Public/Charity Sector panel (Sir Paul Nurse, Sir George Radda, Dr Trevor Hince, Sir John Pattison, Ms Jane Bradburn). Two further full-time staff were appointed in October/November 2001. The NCRI also has two part-time staff seconded to it by the Cancer Research Campaign and the NHS R&D Programme.

RELATIONSHIP WITH CRFF

  Following the Prime Minister's Downing Street Cancer Summit in May 1999, and concerns about the co-ordination of cancer research a Cancer Research Funders Forum (CRFF) was established. The Forum comprised the major research funders in the UK including the Department of Health, Medical Research Council, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, the Cancer Research Campaign, The Leukaemia Research Fund, the Ludwig Institute and Marie Curie Cancer Care.

  The CRFF partnership achieved a great deal in a short space of time and details are given below. In September 2000 the NHS Cancer Plan announced that, in order to go further in planning and co-ordinating the drive on cancer research, the Department of Health's Director of Research and Development and the National Cancer Director would work with all those involved in the funding and delivery of cancer research, to come forward with definitive proposals for a National Cancer Research Institute.

  During the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001 members of the CRFF jointly developed proposals for the NCRI. In early 2001 Ministers approved the CRFF outline proposal for the NCRI. The proposal was then considered and approved at a CRFF meeting on 15 March 2001. The Secretary of State for Health then announced that the NCRI would be established on 1 April 2001.

  The NCRI evolved from the CRFF, was developed by the CRFF and has now replaced the CRFF. As the NCRI, the CRFF partnership has been extended to include a broader range of cancer research funders and there is an NCRI Secretariat to conduct the strategic analyses and build Strategic Partnerships to tackle key issues. Industry is also now a member of NCRI and has representation on the NCRI Board. In response to this the ABPI has established a UK Cancer Group to "shadow" the NCRI and provide collective input. Preliminary meetings have already been held with this group.

WHAT IS THE NCRI AND WHAT IS IT DOING?

  The National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) is a partnership between government, the voluntary sector and the private sector. Its purpose is to streamline and accelerate the advancement of cancer research in the UK. The NCRI aims to do this by developing an overall strategy for cancer research in the UK and co-ordinating activities between Member Organisations. The NCRI Secretariat is co-funded by the Public and Charity Sectors on a 50/50 basis.

  The Specific role of the NCRI is to:

    —  Take a strategic oversight of cancer research in the UK.

    —  Identify gaps in current research and opportunities.

    —  Plan and co-ordinate approaches between funding bodies to fill gaps and take advantage of opportunities.

    —  Monitor progress in implementing agreed plans and in achieving agreed objectives.

  All NCRI Member Organisations have agreed to contribute to the development and implementation of a national strategy for cancer research in the UK.

  Member organisations include:

  Cancer Research Campaign; Imperial Cancer Research Fund; Leukaemia Research Fund, Ludwig Institute; Marie Curie Institute; Medical Research Council; UK Departments of Health; Tenovus; Breakthrough Breast Cancer; Association for International Cancer Research; Yorkshire Cancer Research; Macmillan Cancer Relief; Also likely to include other Research Councils (BBSRC, ESRC).

STRATEGIC ANALYSES AND PLANNING

  A comprehensive and reliable information base is fundamental in research planning and priority setting. A clear picture of how and where NCRI partners spend their money at any one time is crucial to inform funding decisions within individual organisations and to allow joint strategic planning between organisations. Up until now it has been impossible to gather reliable information on research activity in any one particular area of cancer research.

  Development and analysis of the NCRI Cancer Research Database will be the major priority for the NCRI and the basis of its core business. The CRD will be established by the spring of 2002 and will provide the information for a series of ongoing reviews. Eventually it will also provide a public web-enabled database of cancer research for the UK research community.

  Once the database has been established, strategic analyses of the CRD will be conducted in two stages:

  Stage I—An initial matrix analysis will be conducted. The CRD will be analysed for activity in key disease areas (ie Lung, Breast, Colorectal etc) and also key disciplines from basic through to psychosocial (ie aetiology, prevention/control, treatment, etc).

  The UK cancer research portfolio will be mapped to identify activity in particular fields and disease types. Overall spend will be examined against a background of disease burden. The portfolio will also be mapped geographically in order to identify centres of critical mass and inform the infrastructure analyses (see 2 below). This exercise will, for the first time accurately describe how much cancer research is going on in the UK and map out what NCRI partners are spending their funds on and where the resources are being spent.

  Stage II—Following the initial activity analyses of the CRD a number of areas will be identified for more detailed scientific analyses. In key areas Progress Review Groups, based on the NCI model, will be established to identify key research bottlenecks to progress in particular areas.

  In addition the NCRI Secretariat will work with NCRI Partners to analyse the state of major research infrastructure in the UK and to co-ordinate the provision of key cancer research information resources.

What has been achieved in the four and a half months since the first staff were appointed?

  In the short-time the NCRI has been operational, the NCRI has been set up from scratch as a discrete entity. Membership has been agreed as has a formal workplan. Staff have been appointed and working practices established.

  The NCRI has gone a long way to establishing a UK Cancer Research Database containing information on research projects funded by all NCRI member organisations. Individual projects are coded using the Common Scientific Classification (CSO), a taxonomy of cancer research developed by the US National Cancer Institute in partnership with other US and UK funders. This classification will allow accurate portfolio analyses to be carried out across a number of different cancer research funders. Data will be gathered, classified, cleaned and entered onto the CRD to allow first analyses in March/April of next year.

  A new streamlined approach to the peer-review of cancer clinical trials has been developed jointly between the MRC and CRC, working closely with the NCRN. This will provide a one-stop shop for peer-review of all therapeutic trials. The new Clinical Trials Advisory and Awards Committee (CTAAC) will be managed by the new merged CRC/ICRF charity and the MRC will provide funding for it to allocate to new therapeutic trials. Very large trials including screening and prevention trials will continue to be reviewed through streamlined MRC channels.

  With the elucidation of the complete human DNA sequence through the Human Genome Project (HGP) and the unprecedented breakthroughs in genomics, proteomics and bio-informatics many molecular targets will be identified that can be applied in cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy. A large and well-characterised human tumour tissue bank, with associated blood samples together with high quality clinical information, is needed to investigate emerging diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, especially in the context of clinical trials, to bridge basic biomedical science with practical clinical application. The NCRI partners have agreed to develop a joint strategy for the routine collection of biological samples collected in the context of clinical trials.

What did the NCRI Partners achieve in the 18 months they worked together through the CRFF?

  NCRI member organisations carried out a joint field review of prostate cancer research in the UK. Strengths and weaknesses were identified and NCRI members agreed to establish an NCRI Strategic Partnership to tackle the issues. A core group of NCRI partners (DoH, CRC, ICRF and MRC) provided £6 million over five years to two NCRI Prostrate Cancer Collaboratives. These Collaboratives are a new model for funding based on the NCI SPORE model.

  NCRI Members (DoH, CRC, ICRF and MRC) are jointly funding a National Generic Tumour Bank to draw together tumour sample collections in key sites. work is progressing on co-ordination of funding for tumour samples collected in during the conduct of clinical trials with associated patient data.

  The CRFF jointly developed a blueprint for the establishment of the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN) is funded by the Department of Health and co-ordinated by a consortium involving the universities of Leeds and York and the MRC Clinical Trials Unit. It will provide a world-class base for the conduct of clinical trials and other well-designed research. The initial aim is to double the number of cancer patients entering trials in the UK. The NCRN will be a managed research network mapping onto the cancer service networks across the country. The quality, speed and co-ordination of clinical research will be enhanced and research will be better integrated with cancer care.

  The National Translational Cancer Research Network (NTRAC) will lead on co-ordinating the NHS infrastructure support for Phase I and early Phase II trials involving one, or a pair of centres and will lead the NHS's contribution to early studies translating advances in basic science into promising new treatments for cancer through a network of centres National Translational Cancer Research Network (NTRAC).

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

  Close links are being forged with the USA National Cancer Institute (NCI). A landmark joint NCR/NCI meeting took place at Leeds Castle in March 2001. Both organisations formally agreed to develop a close working relationship. The NCRI has been working closely with the NCI in the development of its research database. Both are structured in the same way so any analysis of research activity in the UK can be directly compared with activity at the NCI and other US cancer research funders. The NCRI has agreed to collaborate on the new NCI initiative in Centers for Population Health and Cancer (CPHC). Long-term plans include close co-operation in the area of informatics.

  The NCRI is also working with the EU Commission and representatives of EU countries to establish a European Cancer Research Manager's Forum. It's very early days and the challenge in Europe is that the funding situation is very diverse and fractionated. However, the opportunity exists to develop better communication between cancer funders on a European level.

Liam B O'Toole

Administrative Director

6 December 2001


 
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