Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Engagement with Core Working Group for the All-Island Cancer Research Institute

Ms Eibhlin Mulroe:

Cancer Trials Ireland was set up over 20 years ago. We have done a study with Professor Lawler, which was published last year, on the number of patients, and we reckon that 30,000 have accessed clinical trials on the island. Cancer Trials Ireland would not exist if this commitment had not been made 20 years ago. Primarily, it started with some oncologists who had been trained in the US and through the National Cancer Institute, NCI, coming together to run trials. It then progressed to getting support from key stakeholders, like the Government through the Health Research Board, and key fundraising organisations, like the Irish Cancer Society, and it has evolved since then. We are a not-for-profit organisation so we are not an institute, and it works.

The irony in sitting here today is that the very first radiotherapy trials started in this building, in the basement of Leinster House, in 1914. The scientists involved included Dr. Stevenson and a scientist from Offaly, Professor John Joly. The way they did the trials ended up being utilised by Marie Curie, so we have form in Ireland in terms of our ability to work together and to drive new research questions.

Some of our oncologists have been published and recognised internationally at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, ASCO, conference, which is the global oncology conference that happens every year, where new treatments are announced and new findings are developed, and treatment regimes change in the clinic as a result of that. That is pretty incredible. One of our colleagues, Professor John Reynolds, led a trial in Europe which was sponsored by Cancer Trials Ireland. We opened sites across Europe in that trial and it was published at the ASCO conference this year. We have a great history of success in cancer trials in Ireland and there is much more to come.

We need more investment and more infrastructure in the space but, despite that, we have managed to do it. Our numbers have been affected by Covid but our need is also going to be affected by Covid because there will be a greater need for cancer trials and cancer research in this space. I will pass over to my colleagues to continue from there.