Cancer Research UK has announced that £45 million will be invested into its network of clinical trials units across the UK, one of the charity’s largest investments in clinical research to date.

“Our clinical research enables us to translate discoveries from the lab in order to improve cancer diagnostics and treatments, giving more patients the best chance of beating their disease.”Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials units (CTUs) bring together world leading researchers and clinicians to find life-saving new treatments and tests for cancer patients.

Clinical trials are the only way to find out if a new treatment is safe to use, and if it’s better than existing treatments. Each year, around 25,000 people take part in a clinical trial that’s supported by Cancer Research UK.

The huge sum will be divided over 5 years across 8 CTUs in Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, Southampton, Leeds and London (at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UCL, and Queen Mary University of London)*.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Our clinical research enables us to translate discoveries from the lab in order to improve cancer diagnostics and treatments, giving more patients the best chance of beating their disease.

“This is particularly important for patients with hard to treat cancers, including pancreatic, oesophageal, lung and brain tumours, where options for treatment are limited and survival rates remain poor.”

Cancer Research UK’s CTUs specialise in the design, delivery and analysis of trials that bring the latest scientific developments to patients all over the UK. They’re a vital part of the charity’s research network, helping shape the clinical research landscape in the UK and internationally.

Each of the charity’s CTUs has a different specialist focus including children’s cancer trials, cancer screening, and population research.

In Birmingham, there will be dedicated funding for finding new treatments for children with cancer.

Professor Pamela Kearns, director of Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials unit and Cancer Research UK’s children’s cancer expert, said: “Clinical trials are vital to test new treatments and improve the care of children with cancer. For example, within my team, with support from Cancer Research UK, we run the International BEACON** trial, testing new combinations of therapies for children and young people with a type of childhood cancer called neuroblastoma, at a stage where they have failed to respond to standard treatments.

“One question this trial is trying to answer is if a drug called bevacizumab can help treat their neuroblastoma. Bevacizumab is a type of biological therapy called a monoclonal antibody that targets the tumour’s blood supply. Doctors already treat adult cancers with this drug and we want to see if it works for children with neuroblastoma.”

Trials are also helping us to find kinder treatments with fewer side effects.

Oliver Waugh, aged 54 from London, was diagnosed with tonsil cancer in 2009. As part of his treatment, he took part in a Cancer Research UK funded clinical trial which investigated a new type of radiotherapy called Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT). Researchers wanted to find out if IMRT caused fewer side effects and if it worked as well as standard radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.***

He said: “I was really pleased to have joined because I know the side effects from regular radiotherapy could have been far more severe. My mouth started to produce saliva again not long after treatment, and I slowly started to put weight back on.

“Now I eat what I want, including curries and other spicy food and feel lucky that the high quality of my treatment has helped me lead a regular life again and I can honestly say I’m fitter than I’ve ever been.

“I feel fortunate to have been offered the chance to help medical research and I hope that many more patients like me will get to lead full and healthy lives because of these improvements in treatment.”


*Unit status is awarded to locations performing the highest quality clinical trials research, and the investment supports essential infrastructure and running costs as well as technical staff, equipment and training.

**The BEACON trial is looking at bevacizumab, temozolomide, irinotecan and topotecan for neuroblastoma that isn’t responding to treatment or has come back.

***The PARSPORT trial compared Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) with standard radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancers. IMRT alters the radiotherapy dose depending on the thickness of the body tissue. So the cancer gets the same dose across the treatment area. It also allows the radiotherapy beams to be shaped more accurately and directed at the cancer, while avoiding the surrounding normal tissue.

Cancer Research UK funds 8 clinical trials units.

  • Cardiff University: Wales Cancer Trials Unit
  • The Institute of Cancer Research: Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit
  • Queen Mary University of London: Cancer Prevention and Trials Unit
  • University College London: CRUK and UCL Cancer Trials Centre
  • University of Birmingham: CRUK Clinical Trials Unit
  • University of Glasgow: CRUK Clinical Trials Unit at the Glasgow Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre
  • University of Southampton: Southampton Clinical Trials Unit
  • University of Leeds: Leeds Clinical Trials Unit

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Cancer Research UK is at the forefront of clinical research, trialling innovative approaches and the latest technologies. For example:

  • PlasmaMATCH is a trial looking at different treatment options for women with advanced breast cancer and certain rare genetic mutations

  • TracerX aims to transform our understanding of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and take a practical step towards precision medicine. The study will uncover mechanisms of cancer evolution by analysing the intratumour heterogeneity in lung tumours from approximately 850 patients and tracking its evolutionary trajectory from diagnosis through to relapse.

  • The National Lung Matrix trial is looking at a number of new drugs to treat non small cell lung cancer. The treatment you have depends on changes to genes in your cancer cells

  • PATHOS is a trial looking at less intensive treatment after surgery for oropharyngeal cancer. It is for people whose cancers have tested positive for a virus called HPV (Human Papilloma Virus).

  • PrecisionPanc seeks to uncover the molecular profile of individual patients with pancreatic cancer, to learn more about the disease and to pave the way for patients entering clinical trials in a way that matches their tumour biology to the type of treatment