Memorandum submitted by the Medical Research
The MRC has continued to invest significant
new funding in cancer research since the report was published
in July 2000. Notable recent awards made by the Council include
a new Unit, a Centre Development Grant, two Trial Grants, two
Programme Grants etc.
1. The new MRC Cell Biology Unit (UCL) aims
to understand the molecular basis of cell behaviour. The work
is in three broad areas: the cell cytoskeleton, protein trafficking
and receptor signalling, and proliferation/differentiation, aspects
of which are relevant to cancer. Our earlier evidence to the Committee
mentioned the MRC Cancer Cell Unit located in a new building on
the Addenbrooke's site in Cambridge. This Unit was opened in April.
Its aim is to accelerate translation of basic laboratory research
into the clinic. The initial focus is on developing new reagents
for diagnosis of cervical, colorectal, prostate and lung cancer.
2. A grant to the University of Sussex is
supporting the development of a new Genome Stability and Damage
Centre. This will focus on fundamental biological mechanisms whereby
cells respond to genotoxic and environmental insults, and which
can lead to cancer.
3. Funding for new cancer trials includes
grants for the Myeloma IX trial that will evaluate several approaches
to therapy (based in Leeds) and a treatment trial for advanced
ovarian cancer (based in Guy's Hospital, London).
4. New Programme Grants support research
on cell proliferation (Glasgow) and on gene therapy and bioreductive
drug approaches (Manchester).
5. As part of an £8.5 million investment
in large DNA collections from well-characterised case-controlled
cohort studies, the MRC has funded collections in colorectal cancer
(Edinburgh), leukaemia (UCL) and breast cancer (GKT, London).
The Select Committee report commented on skills
shortages in key research areas such as bioinformatics. MRC launched
a package of research training awards in bioinformatics in 1998,
and the Council continues to offer additional studentships and
fellowships to help build a skilled workforce in this field. In
addition, MRC is allocating £5 million of the additional
funding received under the 2000 Spending Review towards a call
for proposals in bioinformatics focused on two topics: cancer,
and brain science.
The Cancer Research Funders Forum (CRFF) was
established following the Prime Minister's Cancer Summit in May
1999. Membership included the major UK research funders: DH, MRC,
ICRF, CRC, LRF, the Ludwig Institute and Marie Curie Cancer Care.
The CRFF partnership was very successful and played a key role
in developing the NCRI (below).
Activities of the CRFF included reviewing the
state of UK MRC prostate cancer research, which MRC managed on
behalf of the Forum. This review recommended that the critical
mass of research in prostate cancer should be built up, initially
by setting up one or more centres of excellence. To facilitate
this, two "Prostate Cancer Research Collaboratives"
have been established with funding from the ICRF, CRC, MRC and
DH (a consortium led by Professor David Neal at Newcastle University,
and a consortium led by Professor Colin Cooper from the Institute
of Cancer Research, London). As well as conducting research on
prostate cancer the collaboratives will encourage networking and
provide pump-priming support for new projects.
The Forum also oversaw the establishment of
the National Generic Tumour Bank to draw together tumour sample
collections in key sites, and underpin studies addressing the
molecular basis of cancer. Funds for the bank came from MRC, ICRF,
CRC and DH: the bank will be hosted by Glasgow University.
The Forum developed plans for the establishment
of the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN). The Network is
funded by DH and co-ordinated by a consortium involving the Universities
of York and Leeds and the MRC Clinical Trials Unit. The aim is
to provide a world class base for the conduct of clinical trials
and other research, doubling the number of cancer patients recruited
to trials and enhancing the quality, speed and co-ordination of
clinical research. The NCRN will map onto the cancer service networks
across the country thus achieving better integration between research
and cancer care.
A National Translational Cancer Research Network
has also been established. It has two objectives: 1) co-ordinating
NHS infrastructural support for Phase 1 and early Phase II trials;
2) leading the NHS' contribution to early studies translating
basic research into promising new treatments.
The NCRI evolved from the CRFF, drawing on a
broader range of cancer research funders and industry. Its purpose
is to accelerate the advancement of cancer research in the UK,
by facilitating a more co-ordinated approach to developing and
implementing an effective research strategy for cancer. NCRI keeps
a strategic oversight of cancer research in the UK, identifying
gaps in current research and opportunities; plans and co-ordinates
approaches between funding bodies to fill gaps and take up opportunities;
and monitors progress in implementing plans and achieving objectives.
MRC plays an active role in the NCRI: the NCRI Board is chaired
by the Chief Executive of MRC and the Secretariat is hosted by
Achievements in the short time since its inception
include the following.
1. The NCRI has, in discussion with funding
agencies, proposed a joint approach to the establishment of a
national tumour sample collectionthis was discussed at
the NCRI Board meeting on 5 December and approved in principle.
The approach will build upon the complementary work of the generic
tumour bank, but provide samples, for example from clinical trials
with high quality phenotypic information, that will underpin and
accelerate work aimed at addressing the genetic basis of susceptibility
to cancer, response to therapy, effectiveness of diagnostics etc.
The bank should help link basic science to practical clinical
2. In March 2001 a significant two-day meeting
was held between the NCRI and the US National Cancer Institute
(NCI). The purpose of the meeting was to exchange information,
share ideas, develop personal connections and explore ways in
which the National Cancer Research Programmes of the US and UK
can better interact. A formal liaison has been established to
take forward work in three areas; Informatics, a common scientific
outline for cancer research programmes (for research classification),
and discussions concerning UK/US collaborations within centres
for population health.
In parallel to the work of NCRI, and in close
co-operation with NCRI, MRC and CRC have developed a joint approach
to the assessment of applications for cancer trials. This approach
was announced at NCRI Board on 5 December. The aim is a single
point of call for all cancer trialists, clarity on which agency
takes forward which full trial application, and a faster track
for peer review and feedback for most trials. Such an integrated
system via a new committeethe Cancer Trials Advisory
Committee (CTAC)should assist the National Cancer Research
Network (NCRN) in its aim of doubling the number of patients entering
trials and improve the evidence base upon which to invite trial
applications. The Committee will be managed by the new merged
CRC/ICRF charity and MRC will provide funding for the Committee
to allocate to trials. Very large trials including screening and
prevention trials will continue to be reviewed through streamlined
We hope the Committee will agree that significant
progress has been made by MRC and funding partners in setting
up the basis for a more co-ordinated approach to developing and
implementing an effective research strategy for cancer.
5 December 2001