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Our Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres are getting new treatments to patients faster

We’ve previously written about our Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMCs) – a network of ‘virtual’ hubs across the UK bringing together scientists, doctors and nurses to take new cancer drugs from the lab to clinical trials as quickly as possible.

The ECMCs were set up five years ago with funding from Cancer Research UK and the devolved Departments of Health in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’re now able to invest in these vital centres for a further five years – including the Departments of Health’s contributions, a total of £35 million has been committed from next year.

With the announcement of this new funding, it’s a good time to look back on what the ECMCs have achieved over the past five years, and how they are helping to beat cancer.

ECMCs – taking research from bench to bedside

The ECMC network is made up of ‘virtual’ centres – groups of researchers in universities and hospitals working together within a particular location, rather than ‘bricks and mortar’ buildings.

Their main role is to take scientific discoveries from the laboratory into early-stage clinical trials in cancer patients. This is a vital step in the development of any new cancer treatment, and helps researchers to work out how best to use a drug, and whether there are any severe side effects.

Researchers are also analysing samples taken from patients to find out how variations in the faulty genes in their cancers affect how well different drugs work. The results from these studies will help doctors tailor treatment to an individual patient’s disease, to make sure they have the most effective drugs, and reduce the prescription of drugs which are not likely to benefit them.

Progress so far

To date, the ECMC network has supported more than 2,000 studies across 25 different cancer types, including nearly 1,000 early-stage clinical trials and more than 300 later stage trials.

The funding provided by Cancer Research UK and the devolved Departments of Health pays for the infrastructure required to run these studies. This includes more than 40 dedicated research nurses who play an essential role in recruiting patients onto trials and caring for them for the duration. And it also covers the cost of laboratory staff responsible for analysing tumour samples to find out how well patients are responding to treatment.

The ECMC network has also helped to establish the UK as one of the best locations in the world for the development of new cancer drugs. Many of these studies are funded by pharmaceutical companies to the tune of millions of pounds – an investment that simply couldn’t be provided by charities or the government.

It all adds up to making the UK a great environment for research into new ways to beat cancer, which ultimately helps to save lives both here and around the world.

Into the future

Like all our research initiatives, the ECMCs are held to the highest scientific standards. Following a review earlier this year, an international panel awarded grants to eighteen centres across the UK based on their scientific and clinical excellence – a slight shift in the number and location of the previous ECMCs.

This means there will now be cutting-edge cancer trials centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, The Institute of Cancer Research in Surrey, Imperial College London, Kings College London, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton and University College London.

We also now have the first joint ECMCs – the centre at Barts in London is joining forces with researchers in Brighton, while Edinburgh and Dundee are also teaming up.

In addition, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is providing infrastructure funding for an ECMC Paediatric Network to support early-stage studies for childhood cancer – an important route for getting urgently-needed new treatments to children with the disease.

We believe that research is the best weapon we have in the fight against cancer. Thanks to the ECMC network, we are taking bright ideas from the lab to patients faster than ever before.

Emma Rigby, Cancer Research UK press officer