No commitment to increase funding to cancer research – senior official

Cancer Trials Ireland reveals they are unable to open new trials due to funding cuts

File photograph: Michael Conroy, who is a principal officer in the cancer unit of the Department of Health, said he cannot give a definitive answer over whether research funding will be increased. Photograph: iStock

File photograph: Michael Conroy, who is a principal officer in the cancer unit of the Department of Health, said he cannot give a definitive answer over whether research funding will be increased. Photograph: iStock

 

A senior official in the Department of Health has said that he cannot give a commitment to increase funding to cancer research projects despite new figures which show that the number of patients availing of potentially life-saving cancer trials has halved.

The Cancer Trials Ireland (CTI) group has revealed that due to funding cuts they are unable to open new trials in areas such as pancreatic, lung, testicular and cervical cancer.

They are funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) who have also pointed to cuts in their own budget.

Michael Conroy, who is a principal officer in the cancer unit of the Department of Health, said he cannot give a definitive answer over whether research funding will be increased.

“Funding is always a challenge. We have a very open door in relation to dealing with all the interest groups in cancer. I can’t give you a straight answer . . . In relation to research on the cancer side, I would certainly hope so, but I can’t give a commitment on that,” he told the Oireachtas Committee on Health yesterday.

Clinical lead at Cancer Trials Ireland, Bryan Hennessy, said the group is “going backwards” despite plans in the national cancer strategy to increase the number of clinical trials offered to patients.

“The baseline figure that we use in terms of the number of people diagnosed with cancer who go on trials is three per cent. The strategy recommends that we double that because international evidence points to the fact that research-active healthcare systems have better patient outcomes.

“But the problem at the moment is we have actually gone backwards and the figure at the moment is one and a half per cent and that is mainly down to cuts to funding for cancer research nationally.”

Declining trials

The CEO of the Health Research Board, Darrin Morrissey, said he “absolutely acknowledges that cuts were made to the CTI budget over the last number of years. It is clearly linked to the diminution in our own funding pot.

“Over the period from 2008 to 2014 the HRB budget shrank from 36.9 million down to about 30 million, in and around a 20 per cent cut.”

The CEO of Cancer Trials Ireland, Eibhlín Mulroe, told TDs that due to reduced funding, life-saving treatments to patients are being curtailed.

“Due to our reduced funding, we have had to decline opening clinically important academic trials in Ireland.

“These trials would benefit people with a range of cancers including lymphoma, testicular and endometrial cancer. We are unable to be proactive in exploring opportunities to open new trials in areas such as pancreatic, lung, testicular and cervical cancer.

“This is as a direct result of reduced funding.

“Today our trials are providing patients with access to proven but not yet available treatments that can save their lives.

“There are people on trials today who would not be alive if they did have access to one of our trials.

“So it is really important for decision makers to understand that when the funding for trials is reduced, life-saving treatments for patients today can be removed. Their options are reduced. Is this a wise approach. We believe not.”

Ms Mulroe said that the group needs increased funding from the Department of Health through the Health Research Board.