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The University of Southampton

New clinical cancer centre launched in Southampton

Published: 30 April 2009

Southampton joins a unique chain of Cancer Research UK Centres that are being launched across the UK. These Cancer Centres will draw together world class research and areas of medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.

As one of the first centres, the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre will help set the pace for national and international progress in immunology and immunotherapy. It will focus on the biology and treatment of lymphoma, bladder and breast cancer and cancer genetics.

Collaboration is the key to the success of the Centre which will lead on cancer pathology and develop new diagnostic tests to aid the early detection of cancer.

Cancer Research UK already supports research in Southampton but is looking to increase its contribution to nearly £4m a year.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK chief clinician and medical oncologist at the University of Southampton, says: “Joining the network of Cancer Research UK centres is very important for patients, doctors and scientists in Southampton. It will strengthen the work we already do in bringing treatments straight from the laboratory to the clinic and help us to do more work in important areas such as research in surgery. The Centre will also make sure we can recruit and train the brightest young researchers in cancer for the future.”

In partnership with Cancer Research UK and the University, the Centre also aims to maintain excellence in training clinical and non-clinical postgraduates with the expansion of the existing four year PhD programme. The Centre is building upon existing strength in surgical oncology, particularly the development of surgical research in breast and head and neck cancers.

The Centre aims to be a world leader in developing treatments tailored to individual cancer patients based on understanding the biology of the disease and how that varies among patients. It brings together the researchers and support from the University, Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Mr John Conder, 73, who served in the Royal Navy for 42 years before retiring, was first diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1997. Two years ago the cancer returned for the third time and Mr Conder was offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial in Southampton. The trial tested a new drug using antibody treatment rather than chemotherapy.

“I was delighted when my consultant suggested I take part in the clinical trial in Southampton. My cancer had come back for the third time so we were really running out of options. Once I’d started on the trial I was surprised at how quickly the new drug began working. I was tired at the time but within two weeks I began feeling much better and my aches and pains had almost gone. I feel very fortunate to have taken part in this trial, the level of care and monitoring I received from my research nurse and all the staff at Southampton was of the highest standard. The support if needed was, and still is, available at any time.

“And, I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to make my own contribution to the new research into treatment of cancer. The medics and researchers do the hard work but I’m pleased I could put their efforts in to practice and test these new treatments.“

Professor Tim Elliot, chair of experimental Oncology at University’s School of Medicine, comments: “The Centre really helps to focus the application of knowledge to fighting cancer in the clinic by being a "one-stop-shop" for basic scientists, translational scientists, clinicians and research nurses. We have a good track record of translating our own science into new cancer therapies - so we take basic discovery science very seriously. We have very good collaborations with chemists, structural biologists, mathematicians and engineers with whom we maintain a steady supply of new knowledge about cancer and how our immune system responds to it. We are using our deeper understanding of these processes to devise new therapies like antibodies, vaccines, small molecules or novel combinations of the three."

Professor Christian Ottensmeier, Director of the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre at the School, adds: “For an oncologist this is a very exciting time to be at the cutting edge of cancer treatment. Many new drugs have become available almost overnight and promise to make a real difference to our patients. Our focus in Southampton is on developing new immune-therapies in the laboratory and assessing their merit in patients and we also develop new small molecules for future clinical testing.

“We are particularly proud of the unique position we have developed with the very close links that exist between basic science laboratories and the clinic. This has also allowed us to become expert at, for example, working out how well cancer vaccines have worked in patients. We are very excited that a number of our studies are making good progress and are confident that eventually we will be able to exploit the patients' immune system in the fight against cancer. Becoming a Cancer Research UK Centre is an important milestone in achieving our vision to beat cancer.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, says: "Funding these centres of excellence is one of the charity's priorities and will enable us to work towards the goals we have set to improve the treatment and survival of cancer patients. But we continue to welcome the generous donations we receive from the public to ensure we can continue to build on what we have started today."

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