Since its inception in 2009, NCRI’s flagship radiotherapy initiative, the Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research Working Group (CTRad), has achieved considerable momentum and has been pivotal in accelerating progress in UK radiotherapy research. NCRI has secured a further three-years of funding for the working group from a subset of NCRI Partners* and CTRad is now due to enter a new and exciting phase that will, amongst other things see them focus on:

  • accelerating the development of clinical trials using promising new technologies such as proton beam therapy and MR-Linac;
  • defining the routes to registration for drugs that can be combined with radiotherapy to maximise patient benefit;
  • increasing funding opportunities for radiotherapy researchers;
  • leading the formation of a UK network that unlocks the potential of radiotherapy ‘big data’ to better inform future treatment decisions.

You can read more about these and other areas of focus in their bold strategic vision.

Off to a flying start

The landmark consensus paper  published by CTRad in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology in 2016, setting out recommendations around increasing the number of novel drugs being successfully used in combination with radiotherapy, has since opened up discussions for NCRI’s CTRad with UK and European regulators. It has also gone international, capturing the attention of worldwide regulatory agencies seeking to improve their guidelines in the area of radiotherapy-drug trials. This includes forming the topic of a US-based meeting in early 2018 that included the US drugs regulator, the FDA. Prof. Ricky Sharma, CTRad’s Workstream 2 co-chair and lead author of the paper, said, “We brought together a few key stakeholders that had not previously been brought together before: academia, pharma, the regulators, and consumer groups. As a result of that unison between those stakeholders, we produced an important paper that led to the need for a much bigger workshop, the FDA-AACR-ASTRO Clinical Development of Drug-radiotherapy Combinations workshop in Bethesda, USA, to really broaden this to an international perspective.”

Professor Sharma is positive about the future of work in this area: “The CTRad consensus paper has really helped to catalyse important discussions and get this topic in the international spotlight. The meeting organised by the FDA, AACR and ASTRO was an important step in bringing all interested parties together to develop appropriate regulatory guidelines for drug-radiotherapy combination studies. Thanks to NCRI’s CTRad, the UK is leading much of this work internationally and we are able to share insights, expertise and learnings to further our work with European and US colleagues.”

A collaborative effort to improve research grant application successes

The beginning of this year also saw CTRad lead a highly successful funding workshop with the Medical Research Council (MRC). This was the first of its kind in the radiotherapy research field – helping to promote understanding of funding streams suitable for radiotherapy researchers and to improve the communication between researchers and funding organisations. For the MRC, this was particularly timely as it coincides with their new Radiation Biology and Oncology Board Opportunity which seeks to encourage a wider range of applications in this area. Delegates heard from current MRC grant holders in radiotherapy research about their journeys to successful grant applications and also participated in breakout groups to discuss potential radiotherapy-related projects.

Dr Mariana Delfino-Machin, MRC’s Programme Manager for Cancer, said, “The workshop gave us an opportunity to engage directly with researchers that have specific interests and needs and to respond to queries and concerns in a more comprehensive and targeted way. Events such as these also help us keep abreast with the latest developments within our research patches.”

The workshop was attended by around 50 delegates with an interest in radiotherapy research, including clinicians, clinical researchers, scientists, physicists, consumer members and radiographers. Delegate feedback on the workshop was very positive; they felt that the workshop was very helpful and informative and that it was a great platform for enhancing two-way communication between researcher and funder so that funders can devise funding streams to fit with the evolving needs of the community, while researchers can be kept up to speed with what’s required of those funding streams.

There were suggestions it should be repeated with other funders. NCRI are currently looking in to running a similar workshop with the NIHR and other funders of radiotherapy research.

* Established in 2009, NCRI’s radiotherapy initiative (CTRad) is a working group that brings together many research specialties to shape and grow the national radiotherapy research agenda through developing high-quality research, infrastructure and exploiting opportunities. CTRad is funded by a subset of NCRI Partners: Breast Cancer Now, Cancer Research UK, Medical Research Council, Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates (Chief Scientist Office), Welsh Assembly Government (Health and Care Research Wales), Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Public Health Agency (Research & Development Department) and Prostate Cancer UK.