Winter Partners’ Meeting Highlights

Highlights from NCRI Winter Partners’ meeting, 19th January 2017

The 2017 NCRI Winter Partners’ Meeting brought together NCRI trustees, senior representatives from NCRI Partner organisations, industry stakeholders, patient representatives (also known as ‘consumers’ within NCRI), and other key stakeholders in cancer research.

It is one of two annual meetings that provide Partners with the opportunity to meet and discuss NCRI’s current activities, and steer the future direction of the Partnership through shared insights and ideas.

During this one day meeting, Partner representatives and guest speakers enjoyed a packed agenda of updates on NCRI core activities, including the Cancer Research Database (CaRD), NCRI Cancer Conference, as well as brief updates on key initiatives and the very latest on the NCRI’s new strategy.

The afternoon included an introduction to NCRI’s newest Partner – Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, an update on Macmillan’s new research funding strategy, details of recent Consumer Forum activities and updates from the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) and an overview of the National Prevention Research Initiative.

The day concluded with a presentation from CRUK’s Policy Manager, Hollie Chandler, on the UK’s current research environment and possible developments as the UK leaves the EU.

Participants offered a variety of perspectives on how the research community can maximise opportunities for research as the UK prepares to leave the EU, and to set the scene for how the NCRI Partnership can support the community and seize opportunities that might arise.

Read on for highlights of the meeting.

Baroness Delyth Morgan opened the meeting with updates from the Board of Trustees. Dr Karen Kennedy, NCRI Director then gave a brief update on current NCRI initiatives, which had been discussed in more detail at the Summer Partner’s meeting in June 2016.

Karen informed participants that NCRI will be hosting the next International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP) meeting, which will include a one day open meeting to which Partners and others will be invited to discuss global cancer research. The meeting will be held on 20th April 2017.

The NCRI has a range of ongoing activities to identify, explore and progress areas where collaborative working can accelerate progress in cancer related research.

Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy (CT-Rad)

The Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy research working group (CT Rad) is the NCRI’s most established initiative. In 2016, the group published a Radiotherapy-Drug Consensus statement in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology provided a consensus view on approaches to combined radiotherapy and drug treatments.

A report on UK Molecular Radiotherapy research was published in June 2016 to identify barriers, challenges, opportunities for improvement and recommended strategic priorities.

An educational Clinical Trials workshop was held in partnership with the Royal College of Radiologists in October 2016, and radiotherapy research proposals guidance meetings were held in June and November 2016. In addition, a UK Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Radiotherapy-Drug Combinations Consortium have set up working parties to develop the study concepts.

Surgery research

The NCRI has been running a series of five workshops covering challenging and cross-specialty topics, in partnership with the Royal College of Surgeons, to influence the future of surgery research. A summary of the outcomes and plans for next steps will be published in a paper in Autumn 2017. Also, BASO – The Association for Cancer Surgery held its annual conference in conjunction NCRI at the NCRI Cancer Conference 2016.

Cellular and Molecular Pathology (CM-Path)

The NCRI’s CM-Path initiative, established in June 2016, is building a comprehensive programme of work to reinvigorate the cellular pathology community and is encouraging pathologists to get involved in clinical trials design – ‘The Pathologist’s guide to research and clinical trials’ workshop was held in collaboration with the Royal College of Pathologists in December 2016.

In October 2016, the group held an industry engagement day and identified opportunities and barriers to pathology-technology update. An industry forum will now be established to strengthen ties with industry partners.

Living With and Beyond Cancer

The NCRI is undertaking a James Lind Alliance priority setting partnership that will ensure the views of people affected by cancer and healthcare professionals shape research priorities in this area. The initiative will work with the NCRI’s clinical studies groups and upskill the research community to ensure they are ready to take forward the important priorities identified.

Independent Cancer Taskforce Report recommendations

NCRI is working with NHS England to run two workshops that will be held in May 2017 to help address two recommendations from the Cancer Taskforce report: how genetic profiling can support cancer screening, prevention and early diagnosis, and how NIHR and research charities can develop research protocols to enable a better understanding of improving outcomes for older people with cancer.

NCRI Partnership Strategy (2017-2022)

Dr Karen Kennedy NCRI Director and Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Head of Strategic Planning and Initiatives, updated Partners on the new Partnership strategy (2017-23): Accelerating cancer research: A strategy for collaboration between cancer research funders in the UK. The new strategy will allow the NCRI to maintain its agile and responsive approach to concentrate on its four goals and enablers and allow the Partnership to fulfil its purpose of improving health and wellbeing by accelerating progress in research related to cancer, through collaboration. Some areas of work will be developed, including the following:

Mapping activity

The NCRI will use innovative and proactive approaches to identify gaps in cancer research and aim to develop a framework to help inform future funding decisions.

Bridging translational gaps

The Partnership will work more closely with policy makers and regulatory bodies to speed translation of research outcomes into practice. NCRI will also explore opportunities to develop a series of meetings to address emerging advances in cancer related research.

Develop a unified voice

The NCRI Executive will ensure that NCRI Partners have access to the information they need to develop a unified voice on relevant issues.

Impact and brand

To demonstrate the value the organization can add, NCRI will develop processes to measure the impact of NCRI activities.

NCRI Cancer Research Database and future directions

Sam Gibbons Frendo, NCRI Research Analyst, presented an update to Partners on ongoing improvements to the infrastructure of CaRD and outlined a timetable for completion of this work. He also outlined initial ideas on how to maximize the value of CaRD through improved visualization and self-service analysis tools.  Partners discussed different analysis opportunities for CaRD.

NCRI Cancer Conference: 2016 and beyond

Nicole Leida, Head of Conference and Events, provided a review of the 2016 Cancer Conference and outlined plans for the future. Delegate feedback at the 2016 Conference showed clear improvements in satisfaction levels in all areas – overall experience, knowledge gain and networking opportunities. The number of clinicians attending the conference increased significantly on the previous year and there were more exhibitors in 2016 than in 2015.

This was in part, likely due to a very successful collaboration with BASO (the Association for Cancer Surgery) which resulted in a surgical stream on the programme and a higher number of surgeons in attendance.

To reflect the NCRI Partnership’s national reach, the Conference will now change venue every two years. The 2017 Conference will take place in Liverpool, but for the two subsequent years, it will move to Glasgow.

The Conference Scientific Committee continues to consider innovative ideas and collaborative opportunities to ensure the Conference remains the best environment for cross-fertilisation of ideas between clinicians and basic scientists.

NCRI Clinical Studies Groups (CSGs) and NCRI Cancer Clinical Trials Units Group (CTU group)

Professor Matt Seymour, Clinical Research Director, NCRI, provided an overview of the NCRI Clinical Studies Groups (CSGs) and explained that the remits of CSGs are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure the delivery and development of a strategic portfolio of cancer trials. The recent merging of the Kidney and Bladder Cancer CSGs and the Testis CSG with the Teenage and Young Adult Cancer CSG are examples where the dynamic structure addresses evolving and emerging needs. There are currently more than 500 clinicians involved in NCRI CSGs, including trainees to help build research capacity. Every CSG has consumer members who make valuable contributions to their work.

There are 15 Clinical Trials Units in the NCRI’s CTU group, based throughout the UK. They are largely university based and all have UKCRC CTU registration. Judith Bliss, Chair of the NCRI Cancer Clinical Trials Unit Group, explained that by working together, the CTUs in the group maximize opportunities and address challenges relating to clinical trials funding and regulation.

The NCRI Clinical Studies Groups and Clinical Trials Units Group are currently developing new ways of working to encourage links with industry and are developing guidelines on data access and terms of engagement.

Judith Bliss emphasized the need for the UK to develop more pragmatic trials exploiting mobile phone technology, reducing the need for individual sample collection. Participants agreed that innovations in trials design and efficient evaluation could help attract clinical research to the UK.

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) joined the NCRI Partnership in 2016, and Maggie Blanks, CEO and founder of PRCF was welcomed to her first Partners meeting.

Maggie outlined how PCRF became established, and that she had been aware of the importance of NCRI since 2003. Pancreatic cancer survival rates remain poor and Maggie emphasized the importance of research as the way forward to improve survival rates.

PCRF has grown year on year and now focuses on awarding 3-year project grants. Forty-four grants have been awarded so far with a total value of approximately £7million. The charity has also recently set up a national pancreatic cancer tissue bank, based at the Barts Cancer Institute, which will make a valuable contribution to the research infrastructure and help accelerate research through other routes.

Rebecca Nash, Head of Evidence at Macmillan Cancer Support, outlined how the evidence capacity at Macmillan has grown in recent years and there is a commitment to data driven decision making. The evaluation and impact capacity at Macmillan involves mainly health and health services research, with some investment in epidemiology, services and patient experience.

Macmillan recently joined the Association of Medical Research Charities and is planning its first open grant round. The focus of the grant call will be announced later in the year.

NCRI Consumer Forum

Richard Stephens, Consumer Lead, NCRI Consumer Forum, gave an overview of NCRI Consumer activities. The NCRI Consumer Forum is a unique group of research aware patients and carers that provide an excellent example of best practice for patient/carer involvement in research development.

This year the NCRI Consumers led another successful ‘Dragon’s Den’ session at the NCRI Cancer Conference, sponsored by CRUK, where clinicians, scientists and clinical trials unit staff, met patients and carers to develop new approaches to study design. Feedback from researchers was very positive and two proposals have already gone forward for funding since the session.

Currently 86 consumers are involved across all NCRI CSGs, and more than 20 members are named authors/coauthors on research publications.

During 2016, Consumer Forum members made constructive contributions to the NCRI strategy development. The group is now looking at how they can work with individual Partners, running patient involvement initiatives and encouraging more people to get involved in research development.

NCRI Consumers are now also involved in the data taskforce ‘usemydata’ highlighting the need to make patient data accessible and are also members of the ABPI’s patient groups.

Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) – industry perspective of the research environment

Jacintha Sivarajah, stepping in for Virginia Acha, gave an overview of the UK research environment from an industry perspective. She explained that the ABPI held a week of workshops in July 2016 with industry representatives to discuss how UK can create a world class research environment following Britain’s departure from the EU. The workshops focused on four areas: Regulation, trade, talent/people and R&D funding, which are underpinned by a strong research environment in the UK from early phase research to R&D and manufacturing.

Jacintha emphasized that personalized medicines are starting to take up a bigger space in research, and experimental medicine trials in oncology dominate. The UK needs to look at ways to change the way we run clinical trials and ABPI are working closely with HRA to address the changes in regulation necessary as the UK leaves the EU.

National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI) – outcomes, evaluation and next steps

Joe McNamara, Head of Population Health, MRC, summarized the MRC-led National Prevention Research Initiative that involved 14 funders investing £34 million over 6 years. A review of the programme in 2015 showed improvements in development and evaluation of interventions and that long term studies with multidisciplinary approaches were most likely to be successful.

The success of the NPRI collaboration among funders has led on to the development of the UK prevention research partnership. Its ambition is to fund £50 million of research over 5 years, through a partnership of a number of funding bodies. It will launch in Spring 2017 with a first call for proposals from multi-disciplinary research consortia focusing on research that is policy focused and implementable.

Hollie Chandler, Policy Manager, Cancer Research UK opened the discussion by outlining the threats and opportunities the research community faces in 2017. She outlined changes following the Higher Education Research bill, which is currently being debated in the House of Lords, and will lead to the establishment of UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

UKRI will be established as a single, strategic body that will bring together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and the research funding from Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). UKRI will bring the existing research councils closer together to improve collaboration and promote inter-disciplinary research and its work will link to the government’s industrial strategy. The UK’s industrial strategy is being led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and has science and research at its heart.

The UK’s Industrial Strategy is due to be published in March and outlines seven key areas for strengthening. These include the science base, skilled people, regulatory innovation, NHS collaboration and uptake, digital and data, clusters and fiscal incentives and manufacturing. It also focuses on flagship initiatives such as NHS data projects and the Grand Challenges.

In the Autumn statement the government allocated £2 billion more per year for R&D from 2020. This will include the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and funding to support the research base.

Holly also outlined the major implications for cancer research in the UK as we move towards leaving the EU. These relate to the regulation of research, particularly clinical trials regulation, drug and diagnostic licensing, the research workforce, which is currently multi-national and also, funding.

At present about half of UK based cancer research includes an international partner and, as a community, we need to continue to establish international collaborations.

NCRI analysis* shows that in 2015 £40 million went from the EU to UK research groups for cancer research. A group of research funders including Wellcome, MRC and CRUK, have commissioned research into the value of UK research to the EU. The research is underway and outcomes will be published at a launch in Brussels in Spring 2017.

Participants then heard the views of government, charity and industry stakeholders: Helen Campbell (DoH), Adam Babbs (MRC),  Nisha Taylor (AMRC) and Jacintha Sivarajah (ABPI).

Dr Helen Campbell explained that the treasury has underwritten all existing grants from the EU, to give confidence to UK research in uncertain times and that Government is working in Partnership with key stakeholders to ensure the best outcomes for UK research.

Nisha Taylor explained that AMRC represents 138 medical research charities. They have been asked for perspectives on Brexit and ways to secure best outcomes for research. Again the issues raised were around funding, people and researchers.

From the industry perspective, Jacintha Sivarajah (ABPI) reiterated that there is a lot of alignment across the community and that the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy will be key to maximizing opportunities. ABPI is a member of the strategy board and will make clear the importance of UK research and what medical research charities can achieve. AMRC has asked for charity representation on the Board of UKRI.

Participants, including a representative from NHS England, then had an informal discussion and again clinical trials design and regulation were identified as opportunities for possible innovation and development as the UK leaves the EU.

Participants agreed that the research funding community is already involved in key discussions at the policy level, and as a Partnership, NCRI needs to ensure that all stakeholders in the cancer research community communicate with one another and coordinate where possible on policy issues that could have an impact on cancer research in the UK.

* Data were derived from the Global Grants Award Database and corresponding Dimensions Software platform, provided by UberResearch’