Birmingham scientists are set to receive a major cash injection from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) as part of a national drive to accelerate advances in early detection and treatment.
Experts at the CRUK Birmingham Centre will receive around £5 million over the next five years for their ground-breaking work, as part of the development of a unique chain of cutting-edge research hubs around the UK. A further £2 million will be spent on continuing research at the city’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC).
The funding will provide a boost to the region’s stellar collaboration across Birmingham Health Partners, the strategic alliance between the University of Birmingham and three major teaching hospitals; University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHBFT), Birmingham Children’s Hospital and Birmingham Women’s Hospital.
The award comes as CRUK announced the largest investment to date into its network of Centres across the UK. £190 million has been committed to 13 CRUK Centres over the next five years. It is part of a joint CRUK and Department of Health initiative investing £36 million over five years into 18 ECMCs across the UK.
The extra funding to the CRUK Birmingham Centre and Birmingham ECMC is in addition to CRUK’s existing substantial investment in Birmingham’s CRUK Clinical Trials Unit. The new funding will enable doctors and scientists across the Birmingham Health Partners to work more closely together to help develop new treatment approaches and make them available to patients through clinical trials as quickly as possible. This includes extending the understanding of how and why cancers develop to aid the design of new drugs. It will also support the development of personalised medicine where treatments are tailored to individual cancer patient’s needs.
Professor Ben Willcox, Chair of Molecular Immunology at the University of Birmingham and Scientific Director of the new Centre, said: “We are delighted that Birmingham has been selected to be part of the CRUK Centre and ECMC network. This will enable us to build on Birmingham Health Partners’ strong fundamental cancer research, excellent clinical resources, and expertise in clinical trials. Our aligned Centre and ECMC will transform our ability to develop new approaches to cancer treatment and focus these on the patients most likely to respond.”
The ECMC Networks, launched in 2007 as a partnership between CRUK and the DHs collectively, support some of the best clinical science in experimental therapeutics at the forefront of cancer research in the UK. A partnership between the University of Birmingham and the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, the ECMC assists in the delivery of early phase cancer studies across the network of UK sites to enable faster and more personalised treatment.
Scientists at the CRUK Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham are currently testing new drugs for lung cancer patients as part of the national Lung Matrix Trial, one of the largest and most ambitious studies of its kind in the world, which recruits through the ECMC network and aims to target the right therapy to the right patient group based on the molecular characteristics of each patient’s tumour.
Professor Gary Middleton, Chair of Molecular Oncology at the University of Birmingham and UHBFT Oncology Consultant, will act as Clinical Director of the Birmingham Centre and is leading the trial. Gary said: “We are really encouraged by the progress of the National Lung Matrix Trial. We have recruited over 100 patients now to this crucial study, matching the genetic abnormalities found in patients with lung cancer to appropriate drugs to target those abnormalities. This is one of the largest and most ambitious stratified medicine studies in the world, which we hope will change the outcome for some of our patients with this devastating disease. We hope to present the first data next year.”
Dr John Williams, Managing Director of Birmingham Health Partners, said: “I am delighted that Birmingham Health Partners continues to benefit from significant support from CRUK and NIHR. The current announcement reflects the crucial contributions that our people and infrastructure have made to an innovative research and translational environment that leads to improved outcomes for cancer sufferers and their families.”
Every year around 30,400 people are diagnosed with cancer in the West Midlands region.
Paula Young, CRUK spokesperson for the West Midlands, said: “These awards are a fantastic recognition of the cutting-edge research taking place in Birmingham which is essential to getting lifesaving treatments to patients.
“One in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lives – so it’s reassuring to know that, thanks to our supporters, CRUK is able to fund some of the best and most promising research here, in Birmingham.
“Survival rates have doubled since the early 1970s and CRUK’s work has been at the heart of that progress – but every step our doctors, nurses and scientists take relies on every pound raised through fundraising, since the charity receives no government funding for research.
“For this reason, we’re asking everyone to get involved. From signing up for CRUK’s Race for Life, pledging to drop the drink in January with Dryathlon or volunteering in one of our shops, we’re urging local people to help shape a better future for everyone diagnosed with cancer.”
Sir Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive at CRUK, said: “This is an exciting time for cancer research. Emerging treatments like immunotherapy are radically changing the field, we are increasingly able to tailor more treatments to individual patients, and advances in technology mean we can collect and share more research data than ever before.
“CRUK’s projections are that we will reach more than 500,000 new diagnoses of cancer a year in the UK by 2035. By that time, our goal is that three in four people will survive their cancer. Funding these centres is one of the charity’s most important strategic priorities and one which will help us reach this ambition.
“This huge investment is only made possible through generous donations from the public and the tireless fundraising of our supporters.”