Focus on the Scientific Committee

Kevin Harrington

Joint Head of the Division of Radiotherapy and Imaging at the Institute of Cancer Research and Consultant Clinical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, London UK

About you

What area of cancer research do you specialise in and how did you get in to it?

I work in two main areas – virus therapy for cancer and targeted radiation sensitisers. Most of this work focuses on translational studies in head and neck cancer and malignant melanoma.


What inspired you to forge a career in cancer research?

I assure you that I haven’t forged any of my career, the good and the bad is all genuine. Seriously, though, I knew from the first month as a Senior House Officer in oncology in 1989 that I was going to spend the rest of my working life in cancer medicine and specifically in radiation oncology. During my training, it was clear to me that head and neck cancer was seen as the most difficult discipline in radiation oncology – so this immediately attracted me. In addition, I liked the fact that head and neck cancer is radiocurable about half of the time – thus leaving a great deal of room for improvement. As it has turned out, head and neck cancer is also an excellent tumour type in which to test novel biological agents and this has subsequently become my main area of research focus.


What have you been working on most recently?

Ther main areas. Virus therapies for cancer (melanoma and head and neck), immunotherapies for relapsed/metastatic head and neck cancer and a new targeted radiosensitiser (an atr inhibitor).


What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges in cancer research?

To my mind, the greatest challenges in cancer research are: (i) developing more effective local therapies that can cure loco-regional disease when the patient first presents with cancer; (ii) developing effective adjuvant treatments that can eradicate microscopic residual/micrometastatic disease to prevent patients ever developing clinically obvious metastatic disease; and (iii) overcoming tumour resistance to treatment in the setting of established metastatic disease.


What do you consider to be the most exciting development in cancer research at present? Undoubtedly, the re-emergence of immunotherapy as a potential game-changer is the hottest topic right now.


What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Helping to develop talimogene laherparepvec, the first licensed oncolytic viral immunotherapy.


About the Scientific Committee

What has been the biggest challenge of being a member of the Committee?

Achieving a balance in the topics selected for presentation at the annual meeting.


What have you enjoyed most about being on the Committee?
Interacting with the other committee members and seeing how much thought and planning goes into putting together the annual meeting.


Will participants get the chance to talk with you and other members of the Committee during the Conference?

I certainly hope so, I will be there.


How have the Committee chosen what will appear on the programme?

Through a series of email exchanges, teleconferences and face-to-face meetings. Before being involved in the committee I had no idea how much planning and thought is needed to ensure that we achieve the goal of a cutting edge meeting with something for everyone.


Looking forward to the 2017 NCRI Cancer Conference

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Conference?

I always enjoy the plenary sessions and the lifetime achievement award lectures. Without exception, the recipients have all been truly inspiring.


What would you say to convince people to attend this year’s Conference?

I think the main reason for attending is that this is an opportunity for multidisciplinary interaction with people working in many different tumour types/basic research areas.


How will attending the Conference benefit students and those in the early stages of their career? The conference is extremely friendly and there are fantastic opportunities for those at the start of their careers to meet the “high-ups”.


Why should researchers submit their work to this Conference?

Great exposure, great attendees, great venue.


If you could sum up the conference in three words, what would it be and why?

Great cancer conference.


Just for fun

What has life taught you?

Always to bounce back from disappointment.


What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Spending time with my little girl.


Where would your dream holiday be?

Somewhere in the wilderness.


Describe yourself in three words.

Inquisitive, hard-working, stubborn.


Name three things you would take with you to a desert island.

A boat and two oars.