Highlights from the 2018 NCRI Winter Meeting – 17 January, London

Date published: Jan 30 2018

The 2018 NCRI Winter Meeting brought together senior representatives from NCRI Partner organisations, industry and patient representatives. It was an opportunity to reflect on progress made so far since the launch of our strategy, and to look forward to activities for the year ahead.

The full-day meeting was hosted by NCRI Chair Delyth Morgan. The morning session included updates on how the patients and carers of the NCRI Consumer Forum are enabling the NCRI strategy, on research funding across the Partnership from our Cancer Research Database, the work of our Clinical Research Groups and the NCRI Cancer Conference in improving the quality and relevance of cancer research. The afternoon included an introduction to NCRI’s newest Partner – Brain Tumour Research and a presentation from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) on The CRUK–MedImmune Alliance Laboratory and how it is working to translate novel research into therapeutic and diagnostic antibodies.

Read on for the meeting highlights.

 Enabling success



One of the key enabling factors that was identified in our strategy and that underpins all of NCRI’s activities is the voice of people affected by cancer. This voice is channeled through the NCRI Consumer Forum. Richard Stephens, NCRI’s Consumer Forum Lead gave the first presentation of the meeting on how the patients and carers involved in NCRI (also known as ‘consumers’) are enabling NCRI’s strategy. He quickly livened up the morning with some impressive metrics, illustrating the breadth and depth of Consumer involvement across NCRI’s activities and the wider cancer research community. For example, out of the 93 members of the NCRI Consumer Forum, (all of whom are involved in an NCRI activity, including representation on our Board of Trustees),  37 are actively working with NCRI Partners, 19 are currently working with other cancer research funders, five are working with industry and six are members of UK strategic bodies. This gives a sense of just how wide the NCRI Consumer Forum’s network spans and how the Consumers, themselves experts by experience, add a richness and detail that helps the NCRI to accelerate cancer research. Future plans to develop the NCRI Consumer Forum will focus on looking at how the Forum can work more closely with Partners to help coordinate and support patient and public involvement across UK cancer research – this will be facilitated by a new role within the NCRI Executive; a Research Involvement Officer, for which recruitment is currently underway. Further updates will be posted to our website in due course.  

 Coordinating research and seizing opportunities

Stuart Griffiths, NCRI’s Head of Strategy and Initiatives gave updates on the work of NCRI towards achieving the ambitious goals set out in our strategy. Central to this is NCRI’s Strategy Advisory Group – a new group set up to provide advice and support delivery of the strategy. The Group, whose membership will ultimately span the breadth of stakeholders involved in NCRI activities, including clinical and non-clinical researchers, Partner representatives and Consumers, is due to have their first meeting in March 2018. In advance of this, NCRI Partners have been asked for nominations for a new Chair of the Group to take the baton from Prof. Peter Johnson, who is stepping down from the role having overseen the precursor group (the Clinical and Translational Strategy Group) since its creation in 2013. Prof. Johnson will chair the meeting in March – his last and the newly formed Group’s first. A new Chair will be appointed by NCRI trustees in February. As well as providing advice and support, the NCRI Strategy Advisory Group will also consider ideas submitted for NCRI activities. Stuart was pleased to announce that our first call to the cancer research community for ideas for NCRI’s future programme of activities will be made shortly. Further details will be announced on our website in the coming weeks.

As part of our work to drive forward the NCRI strategy, Stuart updated attendees on the successful recruitment to a new role within the NCRI Executive – the NCRI Strategy and Engagement Manager. He was pleased to announce that Jessica Lee will take on this role from 1 February – she will be working to engage with NCRI Partners, and other stakeholders; providing strategic support, data and intelligence.

Sam Gibbons Frendo, NCRI’s Research Analyst gave an update on NCRI’s Cancer Research Database. Through interactive visualisation of the most recent data, attendees were able to see trends in research expenditure by disease site and research category. They were also signposted to our data usage guidelines which outlines best practice for Partners and others when they are reporting on information from the Cancer Research Database. Sam rounded off his update with a taster of some of the potential ways that the database can be further developed to ensure it continues to respond to the needs of Partners. Two suggestions that resonated with attendees were to create a Partners log-in area on the NCRI website to enable easy access to more in-depth data and to incorporate impact measures in to the database (such as links to clinical guidelines and publications). Sam will be working with Partners to scope these potential developments further.

Prof. Matt Seymour, NCRI’s Clinical Research Director reminded attendees that the NCRI and NIHR Clinical Research Network are holding a joint workshop on research in the area of acute oncology and cancer of unknown primary on 7 March 2018. He reiterated the importance of this area – in a session at the Chair’s Forum (a meeting of the Chairs of NCRI Clinical Studies Groups) it was concluded that acute oncology is a ‘research light’ area despite there being the potential to improve the patient pathway through research. A workshop like this therefore presents a great opportunity to gather views from a wide range of stakeholders on how research in this area can be best progressed. Matt then also provided a brief update on two recent workshops that involved members of NCRI’s Clinical Studies Groups and are helping to drive forward high quality clinical research in areas of opportunity. One was on the topic of point of care randomised trials; the other on hospice and community cancer research. Key actions from these two workshops were identified and are being taken forward by the NCRI, NIHR and other stakeholders.

Continuously improving the quality of research

Ian Lewis, NCRI’s Head of Clinical Research Groups started with an impressive show of numbers to give a sense of scale to the NCRI’s Clinical Studies Groups and reiterate how they’re a core part of the UK’s clinical cancer research structure. With 18 NCRI Clinical Studies Groups (CSGs), each involving around 20 scientific members (e.g. oncologists, haematologists, basic scientists and surgeons), two Consumer members, two trainees and one funding representative, the total number of people involved in these NCRI groups soars in to the hundreds. And through the NCRI, he emphasised that these groups are able to make a huge impact on driving up the quality of clinical research: 70% of patients in academic clinical cancer trials in the UK are on a trial that has been developed or reviewed by an NCRI CSG.  Ian highlighted the DISCOVERY programme as an example of the impact that CSG involvement can have on a clinical trial – this programme encompassed a series of studies that aimed to better identify the symptoms of cancer, earlier, and use that to improve cancer diagnosis within primary care. The studies were designed with input from the NCRI Primary Care CSG and the results contributed significantly to a revision in NICE guidance on investigation of cancer and have catalysed efforts from the Department of Health to improve cancer diagnosis in England.

Ian rounded up his presentation with the news that, thanks to a further three years of funding from a group of Partners, NCRI’s radiotherapy research group (CTRad) will start a new phase this April, with a slightly re-worked structure and a call to attract more even more researchers with an interest in radiotherapy to get involved.

Nicole Leida, Head of Conference and Events, provided a review of the 2017 NCRI Cancer Conference and outlined plans for the future. Delegate feedback at the 2017 Conference was positive and delegates expressed satisfaction levels in all areas – overall experience, knowledge gain and networking opportunities. The number of delegates returning after attendance in previous years was up this year – reinforcing the quality of the Conference and the sense of community it builds. There was also a healthy number of new attendees (44% of delegates were new to the Conference), showing that it is still attracting new expertise.

For the 2018 NCRI Cancer Conference, Nicole highlighted some of the innovations in design of the event that we can look forward to seeing: not only will we be in a new venue (and city, the 2018 Conference will be held in Glasgow), the programme will now span three days and cover five research streams. The Scientific Committee is working together across four sub-committees to produce an interdisciplinary programme that provides delegates with a range of sessions from all areas of cancer research. Like last year, we will be offering a combination of posters and e-posters and the chance to orally present research in the silent theatres in the Exhibition Hall. We will also continue with the Conference’s public engagement activity and host – for the first time in Glasgow – the successful School’s Event, inviting local sixth-formers and their teachers to come together and learn about cancer research. Nicole ended her presentation by showing Partners the outcome of the 2017 NCRI Cancer Conference School’s Event, which was organised jointly with the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. The sixth-formers in attendance learnt about working in cancer research and were tasked to produce a video targeted at their peers. You can see their insightful learnings in this video. Nicole is now calling for Partners to get involved in the organisation of the 2018 School’s Event.

Partner updates

For the afternoon session, NCRI Partners took the floor. They participated in an insightful breakout session around how they engage with other groups as part of NCRI and the benefits and risks of formalising these interactions e.g. through some form of associate or affiliate membership. Generally, Partners thought that the NCRI Partnership was well balanced with the current system of  formal membership. The NCRI Executive will be considering how best to take forward the feedback received during the session.

Sue Farrington Smith, Chief Executive of Brain Tumour Research, NCRI’s newest Partner, was welcomed to her first Partner’s meeting. Sue outlined the work of the charity and its mission to build a network of experts in sustainable brain tumour research.

Julie Little, Business Development Executive at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) gave an overview of The CRUK–MedImmune Alliance Laboratory and how it is working to translate novel research into therapeutic and diagnostic antibodies. She summarised how the laboratory, which brings together CRUK and MedImmune (the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca), works to discover and develop antibodies as therapeutics and diagnostics for the treatment of cancer. The laboratory has large phage antibody libraries and world class high-throughput screening and lead optimisation capabilities. They are inviting researchers to apply to access their unique laboratory and expertise to develop novel therapeutic and diagnostic antibodies.