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UK cancer research ‘punching above its weight’

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by Cancer Research UK | News

3 June 2008

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UK cancer research is helping to deliver significant clinical improvements for cancer patients, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer today (Tuesday).

Researchers analysed 43 clinical guidelines for cancer from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC), and found that papers from UK-based cancer researchers are cited nearly three times more often than would be expected.

These guidelines form the basis of the clinical care given to cancer patients and are devised from an evidence base which includes peer-reviewed research.

The study reveals that Cancer Research UK supported over one-third of the clinical trials which were cited as evidence in these guidelines – more than the pharmaceutical industry as a whole, or the UK government.

Researchers from universities, hospitals and institutes based in Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and Glasgow were the most frequently cited.

Lead author Professor Richard Sullivan, who conducted this study when he was director of clinical programmes at Cancer Research UK, and is now at the London School of Economics and the European Cancer Research Managers Foundation , said: “Our study demonstrates the real practical impact of research funding in the UK and shows that cancer research in the UK is punching above its weight.

“Even taking into account the fact that UK clinical guidelines are inevitably going to be skewed in favour of UK-based research because of the make-up of our healthcare services, we still found that the impact of UK cancer research on clinical practice was disproportionately higher than would be expected – which is a credit to the exceptionally strong research base that we have in this country.

“We also found indirect evidence that UK cancer research has as impact internationally – particularly in Western Europe.”

Cancer research conducted in the UK contributes to approximately 6.5 per cent of the world’s oncology research output, but almost 20 per cent of cancer research emanating from the UK contributed to the 43 NICE clinical guidelines which were devised before 2006.

The research team analysed just over 3000 references which were cited across almost 800 research papers over a period of 25 years. The peak years of guideline references were between 1999 and 2001.

They looked at the geographical breakdown of the research as well as the type of research conducted and the impact factors of the journals it appeared in.

Professor Sullivan added: “An interesting finding was that research coming out of Edinburgh and Glasgow featured highly on clinical guidelines – this may be because SMC guidelines tend to pay close attention to research coming out of Scotland – but it was still a significant contribution from the two cities.”

Kate Law, director of clinical trials at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research highlights the importance of clinical trials carried out in this country and it’s great to see that studies funded by Cancer Research UK played a major contribution towards these guidelines. This demonstrates that our research has a significant impact on the clinical management of cancer patients.

“NICE is seen to be a world leader in the development of quality, evidence based guidelines for cancer care, so it’s crucial that the Government and NHS work together to ensure that these guidelines are being uniformly implemented across the country so that all cancer patients can benefit from them.”


For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.