Experimental medicine: Investigation undertaken in human beings to identify mechanisms of disease and to test the validity and importance of new discoveries or treatments.

A microscope

Experimental medicine, also known as translational research, is a hot topic in the world of cancer science. Put simply, it’s all about taking discoveries made in the lab and turning them into effective new treatments and diagnostic tools for cancer.

It can be a long and sometimes tortuous process, involving experts from many scientific and medical disciplines working together to develop and test new ideas.

To speed up the process – and bring benefits to patients faster – Cancer Research UK and the Departments of Health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have clubbed together to provide £35 million over the next five years to fund a network of Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) across the UK.

There’s a nice story about ECMCs in this weekend’s Observer (with a shorter article here), as well as interviews with three cancer patients who’ve taken part in clinical trials of new drugs through ECMCs.
But what’s the ECMC initiative all about?

So what’s an ECMC?

Launched in October 2006, the ECMC network covers 19 centres of scientific and clinical excellence. Each ECMC brings together lab-based experts in cancer biology with cancer doctors to speed up the flow of ideas from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside.
In this way, scientists have a hotline to the clinic, so they can discover the needs of doctors and their patients, and come up with new ways to tackle cancer. And doctors have access to the very latest new drugs to test in clinical trials, finding out if potential treatments are safe and effective.

Early clinical trials

As a result of these collaborations, a large number of early stage clinical trials are now being run, or are being planned, at ECMCs. Known as phase 1 and phase 2 trials, these aim to test new cancer drugs for the very first time in patients. Through these small-scale trials we find out if they’re safe to use, whether there are any serious side effects, what dose to give, and – last but not least – if they work.

There’s more information about the clinical trials that are currently open at the ECMCs in the clinical trials database on our patient information website, CancerHelp UK. And there’s also a page on CancerHelp UK about ECMC clinical trials.

Sharing knowledge

As well as building relationships within each ECMC, the network aims to bring people together to share knowledge and ideas across the whole of the UK, through regular meetings and workshops.

Although the site is primarily aimed at the scientific community, you can read more about what’s going on at the ECMCs on the network’s website.

It’s a big investment for Cancer Research UK and our partners, but we truly believe that bringing the UK’s experts together like this is the best way to get new treatments to the patients that need them, faster than ever before.