Cancer and COVID on the island of Ireland

Press/Media: Other

Period16 Mar 2021

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleRisk of ‘cancer epidemic’ can’t be underestimated
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionAn Historic Day for Cancer on the island of Ireland
    In what is an historic day for cancer research, cancer care and cancer patients on the island of Ireland, the Minister of Health for Northern Ireland Robin Swan MLA, the Minister of Health for Ireland Stephen Donnelly TD and the Director of the US National Cancer Institute Dr Norman Sharpless today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to reinvigorate and re-prioritise the Ireland – Northern Ireland – National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium. In a virtual event held simultaneously in Belfast, Dublin and Bethesda, MD, the health leaders reaffirmed a commitment to a tripartite arrangement that was first established in 1999 to enhance cancer research, promote education and underpin improved cancer care on the island of Ireland. The timing of this event is significant and represents an unparalleled opportunity for the island of Ireland, given new US President Joe Biden’s unswerving commitment to cancer research and enhanced cancer care.

    Recent research led by Queen’s University Belfast Professor Mark Lawler, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor and Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences and published in the European Journal of Cancer highlighted the significant impact of the Consortium across the island. Collaborative cancer research doubled between researchers in Ireland and Northern Ireland and there were significantly more joint research projects with US scientists. The quality of the science also improved significantly, being published in the very best international journals. Crucially, in the 20-year period from 2000 – 2020, over 35,000 patients on the island gained access to clinical trials, saving thousands of lives.

    Professor Lawler, who has been a strong proponent for an all island approach to cancer and spoke at today’s historic event said:

    “This is a pivotal moment for our island. We have worked together North, South, East and West for the last four years to realise this ambition. And it comes at a critical time for us all. Recent research we performed on an all-island basis shows the devastating impact of COVID and national lockdowns on cancer services and cancer patients. Unless we act now, we risk the current COVID pandemic precipitating a future cancer pandemic and destroying the significant progress we have made in the last 20 years. What we are proposing is an All-Island initiative akin to the U.S. Cancer MoonshotSM , bringing together the best minds on this island to address one of human health’s greatest challenges.”

    Dr Bill Dahut, Clinical Director at the NCI in Bethesda, MD has also been a key driver of this initiative and spoke at today’s event.

    “I am so delighted that this day has come. It provides unparalleled opportunities to work closely together to develop better treatments that will make a real difference for cancer patients. Ireland and Northern Ireland together are now firmly embedded in the global cancer research map. We look forward to joining our resources and expertise in addressing cancer.”

    NCI Director Dr. Sharpless also spoke at today’s event.

    Cancer clinical trials has been one of the success stories of the Consortium’s activity over the last 20 years. Eibhlin Mulroe, CEO of Cancer Trials Ireland who also spoke at the event and has worked closely with Prof Lawler and Dr Dahut to realise this vision said:

    “We know that cancer clinical trials help us to ensure that cancer patients get access to the latest innovative treatments. This partnership between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US gives us the opportunity to get the best possible care for our patients. A patient in Cork should have the same opportunity to be involved in a clinical trial as a patient in Dublin, Derry, Belfast, or indeed Washington. Cancer knows no borders, neither should we. “

    Margaret Grayson, a breast cancer survivor, chair of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum and speaker at the event said.

    “This is a momentous day for cancer patients across the island of Ireland. It provides an opportunity for better research, more effective use of data and more effective treatments, all focussed on the needs of the cancer patient”

    “Ireland and Northern Ireland punch above their weight in cancer research and cancer research, added Professor Lawler. “But working with our American colleagues will make us unbeatable. Remember, we need to compete, not against each other but against our common enemy… cancer.”
    PersonsMark Lawler