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Cancer survivor's hope for life-saving research on International Clinical Trials Day

Published: 18 May 2022
Ali Richards
Ali Richards

A cancer survivor who took part in a clinical trial in Southampton says she hopes being part of research will mean more people can be cured of the disease in the future. Ali Richards, 60, from Poole in Dorset, was recently given the all-clear after first being diagnosed with throat cancer over 6 years ago.

On International Clinical Trials Day (20th May) Ali is joining forces with University Hospital Southampton, the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit and the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) as part of the national #TrialBlazers campaign, to encourage more people to ask their doctor or healthcare professional about taking part in research.

“I'm really proud to have been involved in a trial of a new treatment and hope my participation will help to make a difference,” says Ali. “My sincere hope is that through research we can help stop this horrible disease for most, if not all people with cancer.”

Ali was first diagnosed in February 2016 after a lump in her neck which she had thought was a cyst, turned out to be cancerous tumour. She underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment which left her struggling to swallow and needing to be fed through a tube in her stomach.

“The treatment was really brutal,” recalls Ali. “It leaves you in pain and feeling very weak, tired and ill. Unfortunately, it was not completely successful and in 2017 I had surgery to remove some lymph nodes in my neck which set my recovery back again.”

Ali was treated at Poole Hospital, and it was there that her consultant, Dr Emma King, asked her if she would be interested in taking part in the HARE-40 trial.

“Head and neck cancers, such as throat cancer, are one of several cancers that are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV),” says Emma. “HPV is extremely common, and in many cases the body will deal with the infection with no lasting effects. But some strains of HPV can lead to cancer. With the HARE-40 trial we are testing a new vaccine which is designed to help the immune system recognise and destroy these strains of the virus to help fight the cancer.”

Dr King is one of the co-investigators for the HARE-40 trial, which is being run by the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, the expert team at the NIHR Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at University Hospital Southampton, and the Cancer Research UK research nursing team who administer the first-in-human vaccine to participants. The trial is funded by BioNTech SE, who produce the mRNA vaccine, with additional support from Cancer Research UK.

“My experience of being part of the trial was great,” says Ali. “Everything was clearly explained to me, and I was really cared for throughout by the excellent nursing team at the CRF. Yes, I did feel a bit rough after the first treatment, but it gets easier and easier as the time goes on.”


I believe that there has to be a better way, and that research is the answer. I would be so happy to know that I have played a small role in developing this vaccine to help fight HPV-triggered cancers.

Ali Richards - HARE-40 trial participant

Ali was involved in the first stage of the trial which tested the safety and optimum dose of the new vaccine. The trial has now moved into its next phase where the research teams are testing whether the vaccine leads to an increase in immune cells and any change in the participants’ cancer.

Andrea Corkhill, Head of Trial Management at the Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, says: “Evidence of the benefits of HPV vaccines are already coming through in reduced cervical cancer rates since the introduction of the preventative vaccine for teenage girls, and now boys as well. But some cancer patients do still present with HPV related cancers, such as head and neck, cervical and penile cancers. We hope that the HARE-40 trial will lead to a therapeutic vaccine that has the potential to be used instead of conventional cancer treatment to help boost the immune system and fight the cancer with fewer side-effects.”

Professor Saul Faust, Director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility, says: “Clinical trials are a vital step in improving how we treat cancers like Ali’s, as well as many other diseases. International Clinical Trials Day is a chance to showcase the incredible work that is being done by our research teams across the region and celebrate the involvement of all our trial participants who make trials possible, and it is wonderful to see previous participants like Ali doing so well.”

Ali says that her motivation for taking part in a clinical trial was to help stop people having to go through the treatment that she did in the future.

“I know I had the very best care available, and I have had the best result in that I am alive. But the treatment for this cancer is quite gruelling and has inevitably had a long-term impact on my health.

“I believe that there has to be a better way, and that research is the answer. I would be so happy to know that I have played a small role in developing this vaccine to help fight HPV-triggered cancers.”

If you would like to find out more about taking part in research in Southampton, visit the UHS Clinical Research ‘Take Part’ webpage.

Notes for editors

HARE-40A therapeutic HPV vaccine trial +/- anti-CD40 in HPV-driven squamous cell carcinoma. Chief Investigator, Professor Christian Ottensmeier, professor of immuno-oncology at the University of Liverpool.

The Southampton Clinical Trials Unit (SCTU) is a Cancer Research UK core funded and National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) supported CTU with expertise in the design, conduct and analysis of multicentre, interventional clinical trials. The CTU is based within the University of Southampton’s Centre for Cancer Immunology with offices at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust Southampton General Hospital site. Visit the SCTU website.

The NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility (CRF) is a dedicated space for early-stage clinical research in the heart of University Hospital Southampton. The facility provides the equipment, early phase expertise and quality assurance needed to deliver specialist phase I and II trials. Supporting research into a wide range of diseases and conditions, it delivers results that advance knowledge and improve patient care.

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is one of the largest acute teaching trusts in England with a turnover of more than £1 billion in 2020/21. UHS provides hospital services for 1.9 million people living in southern Hampshire and specialist services – including neurosciences, respiratory medicine, cancer, cardiovascular, obstetrics and specialist children’s services – to more than 3.7 million people in central southern England and the Channel Islands. UHS is consistently one of the UK's highest recruiting trusts of patients to clinical trials and in the top ten nationally for research study volume as ranked by the NIHR Clinical Research Network. In partnership with the University of Southampton, UHS has £27 million of NIHR infrastructure dedicated to bringing the latest treatments to patients.

About the National Institute for Health and Care Research

The mission of the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. We do this by:

  • Funding high quality, timely research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care;
  • Investing in world-class expertise, facilities and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services;
  • Partnering with patients, service users, carers and communities, improving the relevance, quality and impact of our research;
  • Attracting, training and supporting the best researchers to tackle complex health and social care challenges;
  • Collaborating with other public funders, charities and industry to help shape a cohesive and globally competitive research system;
  • Funding applied global health research and training to meet the needs of the poorest people in low and middle income countries.

NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle income countries is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK government.

About the NIHR’s TrialBlazers campaign:

  • The NIHR TrialBlazers campaign is being held from Monday 16th May to Sunday 29th May and we'll be marking International Clinical Trials Day as part of our celebrations on 20th May.
  • The TrialBlazers’ campaign will bring our community of research volunteers together across the UK to connect, share stories, celebrate their contribution and encourage friends, family and colleagues to be part of research too. 
  • Follow our campaign on Twitter @NIHRtakepart and on Facebook @OfficialNIHR and via the hashtag #BePartOfResearch
  • Whether taking part in a study, shaping research delivery, or promoting the value of research to others, every TrialBlazer makes a unique contribution.
  • Find out more, visit the NIHR’s TrialBlazers’ website.
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