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Friday 19 May 2023

Boost for Southampton’s cancer research as clinical trials unit receives £5.5 million

The search for new cancer treatments has been given a multi-million-pound boost, providing fresh hope for patients.

It comes just in time for this year’s International Clinical Trials Day, on 20th May.

Running world-leading trials

Cancer Research UK will invest £5.5m over the next five years in the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU).

This will allow the unit to run world-leading trials. These will test new cancer treatments and help find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage.

The SCTU is based at Southampton General Hospital. It is co-hosted by the University of Southampton (UoS) and University Hospital Southampton (UHS) NHS Foundation Trust.

Experts at the SCTU work with doctors, scientists and patient representatives across the UK. They design, run and evaluate trials of new treatments, medical interventions and diagnostic tools. This generates evidence for these to become standard of care for future NHS patients.

Director of the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, Prof Gareth Griffiths said:

“Clinical trials are a vital part of bringing new treatments to patients and detecting cancer earlier.

“We already have a huge amount of expertise in running complex clinical trials. This includes first-in-human trials of new treatments, large-scale trials testing the latest drugs against current standard of care treatment, and trialling new ways to detect cancer at an early stage, when it is more treatable and patients are more likely to survive.

“We look very closely at the cancer samples of our clinical trial patients in the laboratory to understand how, why and which patients benefit the most from the treatments. This helps us to design the next clinical trials where treatments are personalised for the patient.

“This funding will allow us to expand our ground-breaking work into more cancer types, facilitate new treatment trials and ways to diagnosis cancer earlier for patients in and across the UK.”

Building on past success

Over the last five years of Cancer Research UK funding, the SCTU has overseen many trials. Some of these have led to practice-changing results.

In 2021, the results of the CONFIRM trial showed an immunotherapy drug was beneficial for patients with mesothelioma. This is an aggressive and incurable cancer, often linked to breathing in asbestos.

It was the first trial of its kind to show an improved outcome for these patients when first-line chemotherapy had not been successful. It is now offered to patients in the NHS.

The ProCAID trial showed adding a targeted cancer drug to chemotherapy treatment can improve survival for patients with advanced prostate cancer. Patient Ivan Symonds, from Southsea, took part in the study.

The retired engineer, 84, was diagnosed in 2012 after going to the GP with concerns about his health. He was initially given standard treatment. But when this stopped working, he was invited to take part in the Cancer Research UK supported trial at UHS.

Ivan said: “Dr Simon Crabb said there was a trial and asked if I was prepared to take part in it. I said, ‘Yes of course I am, I want to survive.’ So, I signed up for the trial. It worked for me, and will hopefully benefit other patients in the future.

“I take my hat off to the researchers and the clinical trial teams. Trials like ProCAID are vital to add to the science of cancer treatment, and are therefore incredibly important to patients like me.”

The results of another trial run by the SCTU for people with an aggressive form of lymphoma have also shown improved outcomes for some patients.

Both ProCAID and the lymphoma study have led to larger trials. These could lead to new and better treatment being given to future patients in the NHS.

Meanwhile, an award-winning collaboration between the SCTU, the Southampton Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, NHS Lung Health Checks and industry partners in a 7,000 participant study is close to completion.

This is testing new ways to diagnose lung cancer in its early stages. It will provide insights into whether a simple blood test could allow doctors to detect and treat lung cancer earlier.

Funding vital research

Research estimates that half of people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer within their lifetime. This means finding new effective treatments is vital.

Cancer Research UK has been integral in aiding the discovery of many new cancer treatments.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: 

“We are delighted to announce funding for the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, bringing together vast medical and scientific expertise to translate the latest scientific discoveries from the lab into the clinic.

"The unit is already helping to find the cancer treatments of the future, providing opportunities for patients around the UK to participate in research and advance progress.

“Trials taking place now are not only helping patients today, but are providing the best possible chance of beating cancer for the next generation as well.”

Professor Mark Spearing, Vice President (Research and Enterprise) at UoS, said:

“Southampton has a long history of bringing cancer research out of the laboratory and into the clinic, improving the way patients are treated across the UK. Clinical trials are a vital part of this research process.

“We are proud to receive this new funding. This is a testament to the ground-breaking work taking place with our partners. It will enable us to increase our research capacity and capability in the coming years.”