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'Hammer Blow' Closure of National Cancer Research Institute

Cancer experts described the announcement that the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) would close after 22 years as "sad" and "shocking" and predicted the decision could deal a "hammer blow" to future cancer research.

In a letter to colleagues on behalf of the charity's board of trustees, its chair, Fiona Driscoll, said the decision had been taken "reluctantly", but that the risk of "operational failure" in the face of "uncertainty in the wider economic and research environment" was too great for the charity to continue its work.

The NCRI was established in 2001 following publication of the first NHS cancer plan, which aimed for the first time to link prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care, and research. The body's original purpose was to identify priority areas for research and help nurture those most likely to contribute to progress in tackling the disease. Over time, its role evolved to address some of the challenges identified in cancer research, help accelerate progress in the field, and guard against unnecessary duplication of efforts.

Funding Difficulties

Monday's letter explained that prior to the decision to wind down operations, the NCRI had consulted with stakeholders "to produce a strategy fit for the future", and although it had identified priorities for continuing work, "significant questions" had been raised about the Institute's operating and funding model "which we have not been able to resolve in such a way which would deliver long term viability for the organisation". Ms Driscoll reflected that the nature of cancer research had "matured significantly" since the NCRI's inception, whilst much of its work had been adopted by partner organisations.

The NCRI did not specify a date for ceasing activities but said that the board was working to consolidate its assets and data. "The Trustees have an obligation to apply these assets in a manner which is consistent with NCRI's research charitable purposes, and as part of this exercise we will be consulting with partners and other stakeholders, who might take forward some of NCRI's activities," the letter stated.

'Blow' to UK Research Community

The announcement prompted a plethora of reaction from experts in the field, which was mostly pessimistic about the effect of closure on future cancer research. Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick told the Science Media Centre that the NCRI closure was "shocking news" that came as "yet another blow to the UK research community and to the position of the UK as a world leader in cancer research".

Mark Lawler, professor of digital health, and chair in translational cancer genomics at Queen's University Belfast, described the news as "a hammer blow for cancer research across the UK" and a "bad day for cancer patients". He predicted that patients' access to the latest innovations would be "significantly compromised" by the decision.

Emma Hall, professor of oncology trials, and co-director of the Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said it was a "sad day", but the decision was "understandable, considering the tough funding environment and the cuts that the NCRI has faced".

One contrary view was expressed by oncologist Professor Karol Sikora, who told Medscape News UK that the concept of the NCRI had been "a great idea" that became "seriously diluted". He described the charity as little more than "a chat show", that had "no money, no building, no power".

Prof Sikora comments on cancer issues for Medscape News UK.