National cancer institute needed in Britain, MP says

February 13, 1998

Ian Gibson MP this week called for the creation of a national cancer institute to provide support for cancer research and treatment, writes Kam Patel.

Speaking in a debate on the disease, Dr Gibson said the United States's National Cancer Institute provided a blueprint for a similar body in Britain. As well as supporting research, the NCI has pilot plant arrangements for the production of new compounds to be used in clinical studies. When it collaborates in the development of new drugs with a pharmaceuticals company, the NCI has a degree of control over the pricing of the drug when it comes to market.

Dr Gibson said this is "extremely important" for new drugs, some of which have caused concern because of rationing on the grounds of cost. He added: "Some women have been denied treatment for breast cancer because NHS trusts have run out of money. We need some national control over that process."

The British institute, like the NCI, would be involved in conducting and monitoring clinical trials. The NCI makes comprehensive information available to clinicians and patients on the Internet. It also provides regular updates on emerging data in the field. The United Kingdom has no comparable resource.

Dr Gibson said that clinical research required urgent attention at national and local level. Clinical trials are the only way to evaluate and validate treatments, and it is important that people with malignant diseases, especially rare ones, be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials, he said.

In the past, Dr Gibson said, research posts and research projects have been essential components of oncology training. However, the previous government's last round of health service reforms had "unfortunately" put many obstacles in the path of clinical researchers. "They have had the effect of severely restricting the scope of trial participation by non-academic departments," Dr Gibson said.

There is a lack of central support for and local commitment to clinical research, he added, and NHS chief executives regard the activity with suspicion and as a potential drain on resources.

Dr Gibson said that one in three people in the UK suffers some form of cancer and that one in four dies of the disease. With an ageing population, it is estimated that one in two people will suffer some form of cancer by 2020. "The UK urgently needs a national cancer institute that could and should work in concert with its US counterpart," Dr Gibson concluded.

He said the US's National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute had won massive budget increases to boost scientific and clinical research. "Those organisations have strong links with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and many individual scientists, and clinicians collaborate with each other on both sides of the Atlantic." Dr Gibson said his proposal had the backing of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and many consultants.

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