Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit: Celebrating 40 Years of Funding From Cancer Research UK

To mark four decades of funding, the Birmingham Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) held a special celebratory event in January.

Professor Pamela Kearns presenting to a large audience in a lecture theatre.

To mark CRUK’s exceptional 40-year investment, Birmingham’s Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit (CRCTU) hosted a celebratory event on the 17th January 2024. CRCTU was founded by Dr George Blackledge and colleagues in the 1970s with the aim of coordinating Birmingham’s expertise to deliver clinical trials for patients with cancer. In October 1983, it was one of the first CTUs to receive infrastructure funding from the Cancer Research Campaign, which subsequently merged with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund in 2002 to form Cancer Research UK (CRUK). CRCTU has since received continuous infrastructure funding from CRUK.

The event was attended by Directors and staff of CRCTU, both past and present, members of the CRCTU’s Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) community, representatives from CRUK and Blood Cancer UK, and colleagues from the wider clinical research community who have collaborated with CRCTU over many years.

Professor Pam Kearns (CRCTU Director from May 2012 until December 2023) opened the event by recapping CRCTU’s history, reminding the audience of the evolution of the CRCTU and of her predecessors; Profs George Blackledge, Mike Cullen, Helena Earl, David Kerr, Chris Poole, and Philip Johnson, and introduced the Unit’s eighth Director and her successor; Professor Amos Burke.

Two guests stand being applauded.

The event celebrated several of the major successes of the CRCTU over the last 40 years, emphasising how clinical trials in cancer have evolved over time from randomized interventional trials to academic-industry collaborative platform trials delivering results that can be used for filing applications for marketing authorisation for new cancer drugs. Five disease areas that continue to be of strategic importance to the CRCTU were reviewed:

  • Breast cancer (Professors Helena Earl and Dan Rea)
  • Lung cancer (Professors Mike Cullen and Gary Middleton)
  • Children’s cancers (Professors Pam Kearns and Amos Burke)
  • Brain cancers (Professors Susan Short and Collin Watts)
  • Blood cancers (Professors Pete Hillman and Guy Pratt).

In each case successes and lessons from the past were outlined and challenges for the future embraced.

Public contributor, Vicky, and Professor Pam Kearns delivered a session on the changes to public involvement in trials highlighting why it is so important to ensure the relevance of clinical trials to patients and how patients and the public can help to enable inclusivity. Professors Christina Yap and Cindy Billingham highlighted CRCTU’s innovative and efficient clinical trials methodology, that is shaping the clinical trials of the future in rare cancer and complex adaptive trials.

Professor Amos Burke presenting at a lectern.

Finally, Professor Amos Burke acknowledged the contribution of CRCTU staff to the success and outstanding reputation of the Unit, celebrated members of staff who worked in the unit for over 20 years and thanked CRUK for their continued support. Dr Catherine Elliott, Director of Research & Partnerships for CRUK responded with thanks to the CRCTU for their continued and outstanding contribution to cancer research.