The new clinical research facility is at the heart of the Patrick G. Johnston Centre for Cancer Research and will deliver cutting-edge clinical trials and test new, promising treatments to both improve cancer outcomes and reduce treatment-related side effects.
Prostate cancer takes the lives of 276 men in Northern Ireland and 519 men in the Republic of Ireland each year, and is one of the most common cancers among men across the island.
As prostate cancer research begins a new phase at Queen’s University Belfast, the new Centre of Excellence builds on the existing work that took place previously with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester in 2016.
To date, this work has included a global first, successful clinical trial which has shown how a new combination of radiotherapies has improved the treatment of very advanced prostate cancer in men. It is the first time that this combination of therapies has been tested in a clinical trial and has been proven to be safe and tolerable in this population of men.
Another groundbreaking trial, the first of its kind in the UK, has shown how it is feasible to deliver radical radiotherapy in five hospital visits instead of the typical 20.
Speaking at the launch, Professor Sir Ian Greer, Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s, said: “This new centre is the first independent Prostate Cancer Centre of Excellence on this island and will transform prostate cancer research in Northern Ireland, and further afield, helping to improve the lives of patients through innovations in treatment.
“Tackling cancer is an integral part of the University’s ‘One Health’ approach and highlights our ability to lead and deliver high quality research with real patient impact. This centre is another example of Queen’s playing a major role in developing cutting-edge treatments and improving patient care to improve the prospects for cancer patients and their families, both here and across the world.”
More than 4,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Iain Creswell is a prostate cancer survivor who has taken part in Queen’s leading edge ‘SPORT’ clinical trial.
Iain explains how he felt when he was first diagnosed: “Telling my family was one of the worst things because although I told my wife when I was first diagnosed that it was possible that I would have to go through tests, I didn’t tell the rest of my family. I have two grown-up daughters and a grown-up son and they have children of their own and I didn’t want anybody worrying but when I was told by the oncology specialist nurse: “You have cancer”, it hits you like a sledgehammer."
And on his experience of the clinical trial: “The treatment has to be tried and tested on people first, so I feel that I’ve done something towards that. Because of the trial, I’ve been getting blood tests taken every six months and they are showing that the cancer is virtually undetectable so as far as everyone is concerned, it is gone.”
The new, independent research centre is led by Queen’s internationally renowned clinical academics Suneil Jain, Professor of Clinical Oncology, and Joe O’Sullivan, Professor of Radiation Oncology, and will both train and develop cancer researchers of the future, and bring new research disciplines into the field of prostate cancer.
Professor Joe O’Sullivan added: “We are thrilled to be launching the first independent Prostate Cancer Centre of Excellence on this island, putting Queen’s at the forefront of world-class cancer research carried out here in Northern Ireland. We already have a strong track record in Belfast of developing novel clinical research, so we want to build on this to help develop the cancer treatments of the future.”
Professor Suneil Jain said: “The Prostate Cancer Centre of Excellence will link world-class research at Queen’s with clinical trials at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. We hope our work will benefit men and their families who are facing their own very personal prostate cancer journeys.”
The Prostate Cancer Centre of Excellence will act as an access point for industrial partnerships, medical devices and pharmaceuticals and will focus on advanced radiotherapy, drug radiotherapy combination studies and big data analysis.
In a boost to the local economy, the centre will create jobs for clinical trial staff, clinical fellows, lab scientists and PhD students, and was made possible thanks to a generous philanthropic donation of £1.6 million.