Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-87)



  80. So how has the MRC role in clinical trials, carrying them out, changed, because of this new Research Institute; do you get more money in, or less?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) I am pretty sure that it is going to be more money in there; we have already committed funds, as I say, to trials that in the past we have not funded, through the CRC mechanism, and that is going to be just a simple transfer of funds.

  81. But there are no figures on that yet, it is too early, is it?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) I am taking it to my February Council for a figure; in principle, we have agreed how we are going to do it. I have got to go to Council to say how much can be put into it, because it is a considerable departure for the MRC actually just to hand over the money to another organisation and say, "you fund these trials, and we are part of it." The big trials, of course, will be largely funded by MRC, because, traditionally, that has been the group who funded long and large phase 3 trials, and that will be probably, largely, MRC funds, or as in the past we will be involving the other funders to say, `do you want to be party to this particular, large clinical trial?' So the whole thing has been streamlined, with much simpler entry, and hopefully much faster decisions, and much more sensible co-operation between the different funders. So I think that, for example, was achieved in a matter of months, since we started the secretariat. They have moved very fast on this; since 1 April to now, there have been a number of developments of this kind.

  82. Perhaps you could send us the figures, when you get them from the MRC?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) Yes. It will not be before the February Council, when we are looking at our whole budget and trying to decide on our priorities.

  83. Do any other Members want to ask a question; because this is a very important initiative, I think, for cancer?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) The only other thing I should add perhaps is that, because we were forming the NCRI, or at least were at a well-advanced stage of discussions, that interested the world at large sufficiently, we had an extremely useful meeting with NCI Directors. Ten of them came over for two days, for our 15 March meeting of CRFF, at Leeds Castle. We presented them with the plans for NCRI, the membership, how we were going, and the kind of scientific and research strategy that we had in mind, and they presented their strategy, and a number of things have arisen out of that, of co-operation and interaction between NCI and us. The Administrative Director of NCRI, Dr Liam O'Toole, has been over at least twice now, since he was appointed a few months ago, discussing a number of aspects which we are going to work on together.

  84. Do you think the profile of the organisation is as big as the NCI in the States yet; you laugh, but that was our ambition?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) The profile is not as big as NCI, but I think the concept and the excitement of doing something that nobody else has done has given it a tremendous boost. We have taken the charities and Government Departments from all the four countries, and MRC, and put them together into an organisation where they said, "we both have to move towards each other, we have to give up certain things, and we are going to work together."

  Dr Turner: Obviously, it pays to listen to this Committee.


  85. Before I say thank you, could I just ask you, in the spirit of Christmas, looking down the line a year ahead, in terms of what the National Cancer Plan asks for, saving lives, better treatments, and so on, what do you say to the British people, at this minute, in terms of your particular ambitions and contributions that have been started, and what is going to happen in a year?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) I do not know whether the point has been made about the National Cancer Research Network and the Trials Network, which, of course, will now be much easier, not only because of the infrastructure put in by the Department of Health, England, but, of course, we are talking to the Scottish Department and Wales as well, they will be part of that.

  86. What is your ambition for a year's time?
  (Professor Sir George Radda) They say they are going to double the number of patients that they can recruit to the trials over the next 3 years, that is the goal, and I think we will be able to move very fast in developing new drugs, and, therefore, obviously, saving lives much more quickly than we had been able to before. But also we will be able to raise the profile of cancer research and have a much more effective research body in this country, from the basic to the clinical, through this organisation.
  (Professor Richards) I am confident that we are already saving lives, the mortality from cancer is falling, falling particularly in lung cancer, where large numbers of men have given up smoking, but we need to do more. It is particularly also falling in breast cancer, where the mortality has fallen by about 20 per cent in the last ten years. I am also confident that survival rates will improve for those who have got cancer, they are improving anyway; what we have got to do is make sure that that process is accelerated, and I am confident that with the Plan that we have in progress at the moment that acceleration will occur. I think we have also got to ensure that the experience of care, the quality of life for patients, is improved, again, I think, by improving the co-ordination of care across Networks, by making sure we have got the multi-disciplinary teams in place; with the specialist nurses in place in those teams, we will improve patients' experience of care, and, what is more, we will be able to demonstrate that. Because another baseline measure that I did not mention is that we have got a National Cancer Patient Survey, and we will be able to repeat that, in due course, to make sure that we are improving patients' experience of care. And so I am confident on both of those.

  87. Thank you very much. And Sir John?
  (Professor Sir John Pattison) I think it coincides very much with Sir George, in a way, on the research side. I hope, in a year's time, we will be able to present you with some indicators that we are moving in the right direction, in terms of having created a more co-ordinated and streamlined cancer research effort in this country.

  Chairman: I am sure we will be watching, and the cancer community out there will be watching, they are very inventive and interested in what has happened. But thank you very much for coming along today, and it has been a positive message, with lots more to do, your enthusiasm is very welcome. And I am sure I speak on behalf of the Committee when I say thank you very much for everything you have told us, and you will see the minutes, and we hope to see you again some time in the future, perhaps in a year's time, or so. Thank you very, very much.

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