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UK experimental cancer trials network granted Ј35m funding boost

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by Cancer Research UK | News

22 December 2011

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The Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC) network, which runs UK clinical studies of the newest cancer treatments, has been awarded a second wave of £35M funding for the next five years.

The network of 18 UK centres* is jointly funded by Cancer Research UK, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in England and the Departments of Health in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Since it launched in 2006 it has already supported more than 600 early phase cancer studies across all major cancer types. In this way, ECMCs have been instrumental in creating a step change in experimental cancer medicine research in the UK.

The patients taking part in these early trials cannot usually be helped by existing treatments, such as conventional radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As such they may have months and sometimes only weeks to live. The ECMC network provides new treatment options for these patients and underpins the development of cancer therapies, which may help many patients in the future.

This joint investment provides vital infrastructure that would not be supported through other early phase cancer trial funding in the UK. To date it has helped cover clinical, laboratory and NHS infrastructure costs, bringing together cancer doctors, research nurses and laboratory scientists to make clinical trials of new treatments quicker and easier. The network also develops tests to identify which patients will benefit most from a given treatment, saving lives and helping to make best use of NHS resources.

In this latest round of funding, grants were awarded to 18 virtual centres across the UK based on their scientific and clinical excellence. Two existing centres – Barts and the London and Edinburgh – were awarded joint grants to allow them to team up with newly created centres at Brighton and Dundee respectively, broadening the scope of the network and expanding patient access to experimental new treatments. Working as a network also means that ECMCs are able to combine their collective strengths and collaborate more effectively to drive new discoveries.

Centres have played a crucial role in maintaining the UK’s status as one of the best locations in the world for the development of new cancer drugs and attracted additional funding from pharmaceutical companies, equating to millions of pounds of extra research funding across the network. Over 60 per cent of ECMC early phase studies are in partnership with industry.

The international panel of experts that reviewed the ECMCs this year reported that the network is fast becoming internationally renowned, with other countries now looking to adopt similar models.

Professor Dame Sally C. Davies, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health in England said: “These centres will continue to play a crucial role in helping to find new treatments for people suffering from cancer. I am delighted with the very positive comments of the international expert panel.  With such a high incidence of cancer in the UK, it is important for funders to join efforts to ensure that researchers have the best infrastructure to speed up drug development and to search for new biomarkers – the molecules present in blood or tissue – that can be used to improve diagnosis and improve treatment. The partnership between the NIHR and CR-UK to fund these centres helps ensure that the country’s best cancer researchers have the best infrastructure support.”

Professor Andrew Hughes, Vice President, Oncology Clinical Innovative Medicines, AstraZeneca, said “The ECMC network has been instrumental in organising a cadre of high calibre early phase clinical research centres. The research infrastructure invested has reinstated the competitive position of the UK in a global market for early clinical trials.”

Dr Joanna Reynolds, Cancer Research UK’s director of centres, said: “The ECMC network plays a vital role in delivering high quality early phase cancer research, which has raised the UK’s status in the field internationally. Funding has underpinned the development of some of the most promising and innovative new cancer drugs, which are already on the path to becoming established treatments for future cancer patients. We are proud to support the initiative and look forward to more breakthroughs in the future”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We are incredibly grateful to our supporters, without whom it would not be possible to invest in this lifesaving work. More than 7,000 patients have taken part in Cancer Research UK’s ECMC-supported early phase trials since 2007. The research these patients are involved in now will help provide the new treatments of the future.  By contributing to this vital work, they are helping us make huge progress towards beating cancer. ”


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