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



Memorandum submitted by the University of Oxford

  I am writing in response to your request for an update on views regarding cancer research in the UK. I am pleased to say that there has been significant progress since the Science and Technology Committee published its 2000 report. Taking the points as ordered in your own letter:

    —  The NHS research base has been considerably enhanced by the formation of two networks, the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN) charged with providing infrastructure necessary to increase the number of patients entering randomised clinical trials and the National Translational Cancer Research Network (NTRAC), which aims to get more science into the clinic (eg increasing the number of novel diagnostic or therapeutic agents entering clinical trial). NCRN, I believe, has made a good start in organising and increasing awareness of its role and has been met by the clinical community with much enthusiasm. I must declare a vested interest in NTRAC as I have been appointed its director! We have established the coordinating centre in Oxford, following my recent appointment to the Rhodes Chair of Therapeutics and Pharmacology, and are in the middle of selecting (a maximum of 10 from 19 applicants) those cancer institutions which will make up NTRAC's care. These will be announced at the end of January with funding commencing in April 2002 (all exactly on the timetable agreed with DoH). This represents an extraordinary opportunity to weld together a network of elite cancer research units, sharing common aims equipment, trials and ideas in order to realise patient benefit, and contribute to the competitiveness of the UK's science base. The aim of the coordinating centre will be to promote as much synergy and positive interaction between the NTRAC centres as possible, based on the belief that the sum of the whole should be greater than its individual parts. Funding for NTRAC centres is of the order of £200k per annum (maximum of 10 centres around the UK), which represents only a fraction of the grant income attracted from the research charities, MRC etc, by these institutions, however, it will provide essential infrastructural support to ensure more rapid application and transit of laboratory advances of the clinic.

        In contradistinction to NCRN which distributes a resource to every clinical cancer network in England, NTRAC is selective and can fund a maximum of only 50 per cent of the applications it has received. If the next quinquennium is successful, we would hope to be able to persuade the DoH that if there are other centres of sufficient quality, NTRACs funding position would be adjusted to take account of this.

    —  The Cancer Research Funding Forum has been renamed the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) and has already overseen a concerted action on prostate cancer, establishment of NCRN and NTRAC and is considering a national scheme to establish tissue and DNA banks, linked to large scale clinical trials, which would be made available to UK-based cancer researchers. This is an obvious area for NTRAC and NCRN to tackle together. Two important players in NCRI, the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund are in the midst of merger talks, the results of which will have a huge set of implications for the funding and governance of cancer research in the UK. Despite these internal upheavals, NCRI has made a good start and has the potential to establish strategic oversight of cancer research in the UK using a balance of core and response mode funding. The NHS contribution to the NCRI should not be under emphasised, as theirs is, ultimately, the field on which all of clinical cancer research is played, and tribute should be paid to the far-sightedness of the DoH in formalising their role in this respect.

    —  We need to invest in cancer registration in order to make these timely providers of scientifically and clinical useful information, which should help plan service delivery. The data protection act has thrown up some barriers to this and there are issues, which need to be resolved so that registries can meet their full potential. As things currently stand, with one or two exceptions, they are neither betwixt nor between, and are often seen to provide low-level information, which is often out of date.

Professor David J Kerr

3 December 2001

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