Highlights from the 2017 NCRI Summer Meeting – 28 June 2017, London

The 2017 NCRI Summer Partners’ Meeting brought together senior representatives from NCRI Partner organisations, industry and patient representatives, and other key stakeholders in the field of cancer research. It was an opportunity to reflect on recent progress and developments in NCRI’s collaborative initiatives and to look forward to priorities for NCRI in the year ahead as well as providing a discussion forum for Partners on topics of interest and concern across the cancer research landscape

The packed agenda included news on implementation of the NCRI’s five year strategy (2017-2022), the NCRI Cancer Research Database, our collaborative initiatives, including Cellular Molecular Pathology initiative (CM-Path), and Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research Working Group (CTRad), as well as an update on our newest initiative in Living with and Beyond Cancer research. 

There were also reports on workshops run by NCRI which addressed two of the recommendations from the 2015 Independent Cancer Taskforce; an update on planning for future NCRI Cancer Conferences and an overview of recent activities undertaken by the NCRI Consumer Forum. The afternoon culminated with representatives from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) and the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) giving their perspectives on the wider research environment.

NCRI strategy launch and implementation

Strategy coverThe NCRI’s new five year strategy, 2017-2022, was launched at the end of April 2017 and work is already underway to make progress towards our four strategic goals.

To support implementation and delivery, strategic advice will be provided by an NCRI Strategy Advisory Group. This group will be formed out of the NCRI’s existing Clinical and Translational Strategy Group (CTSG) with a revised remit that will encompass all aspects of the NCRI Partnership strategy, and a membership that will reflect the breadth of stakeholders involved in NCRI activities, including clinical and non-clinical researchers, Partner representatives and Consumers. The Group will include additional subject experts as and when required.

The Group will consider ideas submitted for NCRI activities from anyone interested in cancer research, including people directly affected by cancer, to ensure that opportunities to make progress in cancer-related research are identified, and where appropriate, taken forward in a timely fashion. The process and timescales for submissions to the Group are being developed and will be communicated as soon as possible.

There was also a valuable discussion around creating a framework for investment and collaboration between Partner organisations. This would provide a strategic tool to support Partner funding decisions and inform possible collaborations as well as enabling collective Partnership action and investment. Stuart Griffiths, NCRI’s Head of Strategy and Initiatives, presented the outputs from a scoping exercise carried out by NCRI. Ideas for the form and process for developing a framework were discussed and will be explored further by the NCRI Executive.

NCRI Clinical Studies Groups update

Ian Lewis, NCRI’s Head of Clinical Research Groups, reviewed activity across the NCRI’s 18 Clinical Studies Groups (CSGs), highlighting that since January, over 50 meetings of CSGs and CSG sub-groups had been held involving some of the UK’s leading experts in clinical cancer research.

Two quinquennial international reviews have taken place for the Screening, Prevention and Early Diagnosis (SPED) advisory group and the Upper GI CSG. The review panels were very positive about the groups’ work to date and both reviews generated excellent discussions regarding future areas of research that they could focus on.

Several new CSG Chairs have been appointed and all the CSG Annual Reports have been received and will be reviewed at the end of July.

The NCRI Cancer Research Database

The NCRI Cancer Research Database provides an annual record of NCRI Partners’ research spend. Sam Gibbons Frendo, NCRI’s Research Analyst, gave an overview of how the database has been restructured and the data refreshed. He also presented an initial analysis of the 2016 data, which is now available to download as a data package at www.ncri.org.uk/card.

The new database provides more accurate information than previously reported and apportions awards to a financial year rather than presenting them in annualised form.  This is in line with data recorded in the International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP) database.  Each year, the NCRI’s dataset is added to the ICRP database which records funding data from over 110 cancer research funding organisations world-wide.

The NCRI Cancer Research Database currently holds details of over 41,000 awards totaling £6.7Bn. The data includes the value of each award and an abstract that explains what the research project is about. The database only includes spend that directly supports hypothesis or observational research with relevance to cancer. Funding for capital investment or awards supporting campaigning or policy work, or those for conferences or training awards that do not include specific research are excluded.

The NCRI’s database is undergoing further development and visualization tools are being created that will be made available as soon as possible.

Update from the International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP)

Lynne Davies, Operations Manager for ICRP, gave an overview of recent activities at ICRP including a recent meeting of the organisation, hosted by the NCRI in London. A report of the meeting is available to download here.

Lynne also outlined the major activities of ICRP: developing a comprehensive view of the international cancer research landscape by extending the reach of the Partnership and connecting with researchers; expanding its research funding database to include more countries and improving the user interface; as well as developing evaluation tools and measuring impact.

NCRI Initiatives news

Stuart Griffiths, NCRI’s Head of Strategy and Initiatives, gave updates on the progress of some of the NCRI’s key initiatives including Cellular Molecular Pathology (CM-Path) and Living with and Beyond Cancer (LWBC). More information can be found at www.ncri.org.uk/initiatives

The CM-Path initiative, chaired by Dr Karin Oien, has made great progress in its first year towards its goal to re-invigorate academic pathology in the UK. Members of the initiative’s various groups are working to influence the way pathologists are trained, liaising with industry to support development of digital pathology technologies, and contributing to clinical trials development. The initiative will undergo a mid-term review in 2019.
This initiative will address research priorities relating to adults living with or beyond cancer. In partnership with the James Lind Alliance, a survey will be launched at the beginning of Sept 2017 and will ask people affected by cancer and relevant healthcare professionals to identify unanswered questions in living with and beyond cancer research.  These will be prioritised through a second survey and stakeholder workshops. Alongside this activity, a grantsmanship programme will be developed to ensure the research community is equipped to address the priority research questions.

Five workshops were held in collaboration with the Royal College of Surgeons between May 2016 and March 2017. Reports of four of the workshops are available on the NCRI website with the final report due to be published shortly.

The workshops are already having an impact with one resulting in an application for an early-phase surgical intervention trial. The series has helped engage young surgeons with research and will support future developments and training. The NCRI is now exploring next steps to ensure continued momentum in increasing awareness amongst surgeons of opportunities for surgical research that will help to develop a new generation of surgical research leaders.

The NCRI’s flagship initiative in clinical and translational radiotherapy research was established in 2009 and has helped to place the UK at the forefront of radiotherapy research in cancer. The CTRad steering group submitted a paper to Partners ahead of the meeting, providing an overview of the initiative and its achievements to date, including work to identify the UK’s Centres of Excellence in clinical and translational radiotherapy and establishing the group internationally as an exemplar model for collaborative working in radiotherapy innovations, including proton beam therapies and drug/radiotherapy combinations.

The paper also outlined the group’s five point strategic vision for 2018-2021 which will build on previous successes and includes evaluating and implementing technological advances, building the radiotherapy research workforce and converting discovery science into patient benefit.

Ian Lewis, Head of Clinical Research Groups, presented the paper along with the Chair of CTRad, Professor Anthony Chalmers, which outlined the case for further funding for the initiative. Partners who would like to financially support the initiative were asked to contact Ian (ian.lewis@ncri.org.uk).

Other ongoing scoping work

The NCRI is agile and responsive to need and works to identify gaps and opportunities in cancer-related research. Stuart Griffiths outlined some new areas that are currently being explored by the NCRI.

Matt Seymour, NCRI’s Clinical Research Director, gave an overview of a workshop, held in May 2017 on behalf of NHS England, following recommendations made in the 2015 Independent Cancer Taskforce report.

Forty geriatricians, consumers, researchers, Partner charities, and other stakeholders including Age UK, met to discuss how progress could be made in closing the gap that is developing in improving care for older people with cancer. The day comprised a morning information sharing session with a series of presentations, followed by focus groups to brainstorm topics including measuring and improving levels of fitness in older patients, improving patient interactions and designing research.

The group produced a list of broad research areas that require attention, including improving the diagnostic pathway and establishing outcome measures for studies that are relevant to older people.  A report from the workshop will be published with several recommendations being taken forward through the work of the NCRI Clinical Studies Groups and disseminated to other stakeholder groups to ensure they are considered.

David Baldwin, Chair of the NCRI’s Screening, Prevention and Early Diagnosis Advisory Group (SPED), gave an overview of this workshop, held in May 2017 on behalf of NHS England, following recommendations made in the 2015 Independent Cancer Taskforce Report, to evaluate the potential for risk-based prevention and screening methods.

Forty participants from a wide range of stakeholder groups discussed issues such as when screening stops being cost-effective and how to design effective clinical studies to test how genetic markers can improve the benefits from screening programmes.

A report of the workshop will be published, and the SPED Advisory group will take forward recommendations for further research, through the NCRI CSGs.

There is a wealth of imaging data available that could support the cancer research community in developing and standardizing cancer biomarkers, if it was accessible and searchable.

Further scoping work is required to ensure any investment in a directory/repository of imaging data would facilitate meta-analysis and include pre-planned patient consent to ensure data could be widely used. Partners agreed that NCRI should be involved in taking forward discussions.

Partners discussed exploring the issues and increasing research efforts in the areas of acute oncology and cancer of unknown primary origin.  A workshop will be held in due course to identify areas of research need and to discuss how the NCRI could help to address these.

NCRI Cancer Conference 2018

Nicole Leida, NCRI Head of Conference and Events outlined a new programme structure for the NCRI Cancer Conference from 2018 onwards.



The programme will have five streams –

  • Cancer discovery research
  • Prevention
  • Early detection, diagnosis and prognosis
  • Treatment
  • Cancer control, living with and beyond cancer, cancer outcomes

There will be a variety of session types, including plenaries, recent advances and specialist sessions, educational sessions, clinical trials showcases, bench to bedside session, meet the experts and a spotlight on NCRI activities.

A new committee structure will support development of the Conference programme across the five streams. Applications are invited for new members of the Conference scientific committee and nominations welcomed from Partners for the 2018 Scientific Committee chair position. The application form is available here.

Update on NCRI Consumer Forum activities

Richard Stephens speaking at the House of LordsRichard Stephens, NCRI Consumer Lead, presented an update on NCRI Consumer activities. Highlights included the patient-led research poster presented at a recent Public Health England Conference which outlined findings from the most recent analysis of the Cancer Patient Experience Survey, demonstrating that patients can do data-led research. The poster won a prize at the conference.

Members of the group are working with the ABPI and NCRI Clinical Trials Units to support them in developing the best outcome measures for clinical trials, looking more closely at quality of life measures. They are also working with Public Health England and NHS England on a variety of projects that will support improvements in the patient experience and identify better ways to measure the impact of patient involvement in research.

Ian Lewis, Head of Clinical Research Groups invited expressions of interest from Partners for representatives to join the Consumer Involvement Steering Group.

Update from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)

Virginia Acha from ABPI presented an overview of areas where partnerships between NCRI Partners and industry could add value, including new technologies, innovative clinical design and biomarkers, effective trial recruitment and finding ways to encourage investment in technologies and medicines in areas where there is unmet need.

Recent analysis shows that globally, industry spend on R&D amounts to approximately $100 billion annually, of which 28% is on cancer treatments. ABPI is keen to encourage more investment in the UK and believes that more can be done to develop experimental medicine trials in the UK, for example by validating biomarkers as outcome measures and realising the benefits of using digital technologies as part of study design.

In addition, refining procedures to ensure trials are implemented in a timely fashion, will be key to bringing more investment for clinical trials, in particular Phase I trials, to the UK.  Virginia emphasised that investigators should be encouraged by NCRI to link with industry, and more can be done to draw attention to the work of the NCRI CSGs.

Update on the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and the research environment

Cancer landscapeCatherine Ball from the Association of Medical Research Charities outlined the latest developments on the Government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, which should be published before the summer recess. Work on the strategy had stalled in the run up to the UK’s general election in June, but has since resumed with Professor John Bell chairing the Board.

The AMRC represents medical research charities in discussions and will ensure that due consideration is given to how the UK can make the most of the R&D tax credit, charity support fund, and maximize opportunities for using patient data.  In discussions, the AMRC has outlined its vision to make UK the global hub of clinical research and innovation and to ensure that the NHS is at the centre of collaborations that mean research is translated into better practice for patients. When the strategy is finally published, Sir John Bell, chair of the Board will be brokering sector deals.