This week marks the 10th anniversary of the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle.
Sir Bobby’s family, staff, patients and our fundraisers celebrated the occasion with an Open Day at the centre today (16th February), when members of the public had the opportunity to find out more about clinical trials.
Officially opened by Sir Bobby on 20th February 2009, patients and staff at the Sir Bobby Robson Centre work closely together to improve the treatment and diagnosis of cancer and study the effects of new drugs, for the benefit of this generation and generations to come.
The centre was made possible after Sir Bobby launched our Foundation in 2008 to find the £500,000 needed to equip it. We also fund training posts for a specialist clinical trials doctor and nurse within the centre.
Now one of the most active cancer clinical trials units in the UK, it was recognised as a CRUK Centre of Excellence for this activity in 2016.
It offers patients from across the North East and Cumbria access to early drug trials and potential new treatments, including immunotherapy drugs that are proving very effective for some cancers, which would otherwise be extremely difficult to treat.
Professor Ruth Plummer is director of the Sir Bobby Robson Centre, was Sir Bobby’s consultant and is a trustee of our Foundation.
Professor Plummer says: “I hope Sir Bobby would be pleased with the ongoing work we’re doing here. It wouldn’t have been possible without his commitment and the support of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
“Sir Bobby was one of the first patients to receive treatment here and he was very engaged with the process. Like all our patients, he understood the importance of clinical trials both for him personally and for others.
“In fact, we have patients who choose to undertake trials knowing from the outset that it won’t improve their situation, but they know it will help other people coming after them. Sir Bobby knew that and described them as ‘selfless’ and I think that’s a perfect description.
“Physically, the centre remains much as it was when we first opened. We’ve opened things up a bit by removing a wall, and we’ve updated the furniture and gained some extra administration space across the corridor but, essentially, we’re just the same. And definitely the same ethos.
“The first thing people see when they walk through the door is still the wonderful picture of Sir Bobby above the reception desk. There’s always a warm welcome for our patients, who are very much part of the team here.
“I’d say the main thing that’s changed since Sir Bobby received his treatment on this unit is the introduction of immunotherapy as a way to treat cancers.
“It’s a new kind of treatment that’s now standard in many cancers because of successful clinical trials and was in its infancy when this centre first opened a decade ago.
“Immunotherapy drugs help our own immune system to attack cancer cells and are proving very effective for some cancers, which would otherwise have been extremely difficult to treat. In fact, we’re seeing some patients where treatment helps for years. It’s just the sort of exciting improvement in treatment we want to see happening.”
The number of cases of cancer in the North East and Cumbria is higher than the national average and the Sir Bobby Robson Centre sees around 300 new patients every year.
There has been an increase in clinical trials open to recruitment, currently over 50, and there has been an increase in referrals and patients going on to drug trials. Last year, (August 2017 – August 2018) there were 2,183 patient visits to the centre.
Often these are ‘first in human’ trials and the Sir Bobby Robson Centre’s dedicated staff also coordinate trials of drugs at later stages of development, working with the National Cancer Networks to ensure patients get offered the best options for treatment. They also work closely with the Imaging Research Centre to improve diagnosis and study the effects of new drugs.
Many patients are also enrolled in other research studies, studying the biology and genetics of cancer to help develop and improve treatments.
Lady Elsie says: “Bob was really humbled when it was suggested this new centre should be named after him. It meant such a lot to him.
“I can think of no better way of remembering him than the continued work in this trials unit. He’d be so proud to know how it’s helping people facing cancer now and making things better for the future.
“Finding the money to equip this centre is why we launched our Foundation and we’ve been so lucky to receive marvellous support that’s enabled us to do that, and much more.
“I hope everyone who has ever supported our Foundation in any way shares my pride in the achievements of the team at the Sir Bobby Centre. And let’s hope the next 10 years brings even more important drug breakthroughs.”
Cancer drug trials are a team effort and in 2013 our Foundation was proud to join the Newcastle Cancer Centre.
This partnership launched in 2009 and is a collaboration of Cancer Research UK, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Newcastle University and Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
By promoting closer links between scientists, doctors, nurses and funding organisations, the Newcastle Cancer Centre aims to speed the delivery of new therapies and improve cancer services.