Leading Northern Ireland cancer specialist Professor Mark Lawler today called for an All-Island Cancer Research Institute which he said would yield far-reaching benefits for the population.
Time for change
Speaking at an online meeting of Stormont’s All Party Group on Cancer (APGC), Prof Lawler said that now was the time to change the way we approach cancer. A new institute would build on the work of the All-Island Cancer Consortium1 over the last 20 years and would drive better outcomes and care for patients in the future. Cancer is now the biggest killer on the island of Ireland and the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on cancer patients and services.
“We are calling for an All-Ireland Cancer Research Institute with a multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral composition, bringing together the best minds on the island working collaboratively to improve the outcome for cancer patients and the health of the general public. The patient will be at the very heart of our work. We need to compete, not against each other, but against our common enemy… cancer,” he said.
“Not only would an all-island approach benefit patients by improving access to innovative medicines and diagnostics, it will also help to enhance health care systems benefitting policy makers and the clinical community, increase cancer research activity and accelerate innovation and new product development, contribute to increased prosperity and entrepreneurship across the island. The benefits would be far-reaching. There is no time to waste.”
Prof Lawler is Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor of Digital Health and Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast.
New Cancer Strategy
Dr Martin Eatock, Consultant/Honorary Senior Lecturer in Medical Oncology, Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, and Chair of the Cancer Strategy Subgroup on Treatment, gave an update on the treatment element of the new Northern Ireland Cancer Strategy, which is expected to go out for consultation in the next few months.
He said that decisions about cancer treatment were likely to be driven in future by developments in molecular pathology, increased use of artificial intelligence and implementation of new technology, ie robotic assisted surgery and new radiotherapy techniques.
Richard Spratt, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: “We welcome moves to reinvigorate the work of cancer experts by forming a stronger and more far reaching Cancer Research Institute which would bring together expertise and excellence from all across the island and from further afield. It promises to be a better way of working together going forward with the aim of improved care and earlier and better diagnosis for cancer patients.”
The APGC meeting was chaired by Paula Bradshaw MLA and attended by MLAs and representatives of health groups.
The Secretariat for the APGC is provided by Cancer Focus Northern Ireland.
The All Ireland Cancer Consortium is a partnership between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US National Cancer Institute, the premier cancer institute in the world, formed through a memorandum of Understanding that was signed in Stormont in November 1999. For details of the achievements of the All Ireland Cancer Consortium please see https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32114365/