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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

The UK leads Europe in early-stage clinical research

by Nick Perkins

With Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Bill sailing through Parliament, the UK should be leaving the EU at the end of January 2020.

Obviously, this major change in the UK’s relationship with Europe poses several major questions (we blogged about some of these here). The answers might be known by the end of the transition period, but could take much longer to be fully understood. 

However, a report from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) provides some reassurance about the UK’s ability to undertake clinical trials and research. The ABPI previously spoke about Brexit and brain tumours during a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours (APPGBT), for which Brain Tumour Research is proud to provide the Secretariat. 

Latest figures reveal that the UK is leading the rest of Europe for early-stage clinical research into new medicines, with cancer research being a particular strong point. 

Clinical trials test potential new medicines and are divided into different stages, called phases.

  • Phase I trials involve a small number of patients and test how much of the drug is safe and if there are any side effects;
  • Phase II trials are larger and find out how well the treatment works, the best dose to use and how to manage any side effects;
  • Phase III trials are even bigger, involving patients in different hospitals and sometimes different countries. They compare the new medicine with the best currently available treatment to find out which works best, more about side effects and how quality of life is affected.

The UK ranks first in Europe for the number of early-stage clinical trials, with 147 Phase I and 253 Phase II clinical trials started in 2017.

For Phase III clinical trials, 243 trials were initiated in the UK in 2017 – ranking the UK third in Europe behind Germany and Spain.

Over the last decade, an average of 28% of EU clinical trial applications have come from the UK, with phase I & II trials not having been affected by Brexit, although there has been a reduction in phase III trials in the UK since 2016.

Oncology remains the UK’s strongest area for clinical research, with an average of 201 commercial clinical trials started per year since 2012. Within Europe, the UK sits 3rd, behind Spain and France.

The ABPI’s report recommends that continuing the UK’s success in research will involve both increased investment and training a scientific workforce. We are pleased to see these issues included, as both are central tenets of both our Research Strategy and Find A Cure manifesto

Simplifying the process of setting up and running clinical trials is something also suggested by the ABPI. This topic was examined by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Brain Tumours' Inquiry into the economic costs of brain tumours. Facilitating more clinical trials would be important in helping increase the proportion of brain tumour patients taking part in a clinical trial to 15%, up from current levels of under 7%. The Government’s draft Medicines & Medical Devices Bill may streamline the clinical trials process and we will work with Parliamentary stakeholders to ensure brain tumour patients could also benefit from the proposed reforms.

Brain Tumour Research is campaigning to ensure government policies support UK science and research and help maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in medicines development.

As detailed in this blog, the UK is currently a world-leader in these fields, but the uncertainty around the UK’s long-term relationships Brexit and long-term competition from non-EU nations such as the USA, China and Japan could begin to threaten the UK’s research sector. We will be campaigning to ensure this doesn’t happen.

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