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How funding boost will advance pioneering cancer research at Newcastle

By Prof Steven Clifford

Last year, we marked the 40th anniversary of cancer research at Newcastle University. Professor Steven Clifford, Director of our Centre for Cancer, shares how major new funding will ensure we remain at the forefront of leading cancer treatment discoveries.

Over these four decades, we have grown from enthusiastic beginnings in a small group of laboratories, into a leading Centre for Cancer, founded in 2019 and home to more than 500 researchers.

Throughout this journey, we have stood apart from the rest as a research centre focussed on driving changes in clinical practice. The heart of our mission lies in improving the management and outlook for cancer patients across the globe.

Our ground-breaking work - which has led to the delivery of personalised therapies through novel diagnostics, new cancer drugs, medical devices, early cancer detection and prevention, and clinical trials - has driven advances in cancer research and treatment across all age groups.

Major new funding from Cancer Research UK 

We’re thrilled that Cancer Research UK has recently announced more than £6 million funding to researchers at Newcastle University Centre for Cancer. Together, these awards further enhance our strengths across the translational pathway from the laboratory to the bedside, as well as supporting major new areas of strategic investment for the future.

Dr Laura Greaves’ new £1.6 million Career Establishment Award will make fundamental discoveries in mitochondrial biology, whilst critically, supporting both our burgeoning programme in colorectal cancer and her own development as a new independent investigator.

The £2 million programme grant awarded to Professor Derek Mann and colleagues will continue their initiatives to harness the immune system to combat liver cancers, a particular area of unmet need in oncology in which Newcastle is developing leading programmes for the UK in this field.

My own £2.2 million continuing programme focusses on the life-threatening childhood brain tumour, medulloblastoma, and will work across pan-European clinical trials and state-of-the-art biological studies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, to develop the next generation of improved therapies for these children, tailored to their individual biological profiles. This will link closely to Cancer Research UK’s award to my colleague, Professor Simon Bailey, which will support our latest European trial in infant medulloblastoma.

From Newcastle, for the World

Our Cancer Centre in Newcastle leads research within the North East, framed by a global perspective and impact. The Centre enables us to bring together the essential multi-disciplinary teams of clinicians and researchers from across the University, with our NHS partners at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and surrounding healthcare Trusts, necessary to make discoveries and move them forward into clinical practice.

Together, we serve a population of around 3.5 million people in our region. Our leaders play key roles in the national and international networks responsible for implementing and overseeing clinical developments. Critically, this ensures that our research programmes are driven out of unmet clinical needs and embedded in international strategy and policy.

In turn, this ensures patients in our region are central to, and benefit from, advances made by our Centre. A true virtuous circle.

Cornerstones for our translational innovations include our specialist facilities developed at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre and the Great North Children’s Hospital (GNCH), housing more than 100 researchers and representing one of the largest comprehensive paediatric oncology centres in Europe. Our purpose-built clinical research facilities at GNCH and the Northern Centre for Cancer Care provide world-leading settings for both clinical research and the care of patients.

Fertile ground for future development

Cancer research is expensive, and we require millions of pounds every year to sustain our outstanding research programmes. Our new funding from Cancer Research UK is vital, and beautifully exemplifies the breadth of clinically facing research ongoing here at Newcastle.

We have developed our Centre to be an optimal home for all our programmes, providing the supportive environment for them to thrive, and optimise their chances of clinical impact. As we look to the future, we must strive to develop our activities further and continue to deliver benefits to patients. Central to this are our efforts to recruit and train the next generation of cancer clinicians and researchers, who can develop and execute these goals in the coming decades.

As Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Cancer, I am very proud of what we have achieved so far and the steps we continue to make to ensure that we remain at the forefront of major cancer treatment discoveries.

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Tags: Cancer, Research Excellence, Ageing and Health, Sustainable Development