10 years of NCRI Cancer Conference – a retrospective

For 10 years the NCRI Cancer Conference has been bringing the UK cancer research community together. The past Chairs of the Scientific Committee and other colleagues share key achievements and future hopes for cancer research, and how the Conference continuously supports cross-pollination and joined-up research efforts. This is the story you are invited to share.

Scientific Committee Chairs 2005–2014

RichardMarais2014 Chair: Richard Marais, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, UK

We have seen enormous progress in our understanding of cancer over the 10 years that NCRI conference has been running. This has led to impressive insight into the genetics, biology and immunology of different cancers, which in turn has allowed the development of exciting and more effective new therapies for cancer patients. The improvements in patient care and outcomes over the last 10 years has been impressive.

The developments of the last 10 years have been driven in part by advances in technologies such as next generation sequencing and mass spectrometry, underpinned by increased computational power that allows us to interpret massive amounts of data and thereby interrogate individual tumours at the molecular level. This has taught us that tumours display remarkable heterogeneity, but also allowed us to understand the evolutionary processes that enable tumours to escape targeted and conventional therapies. It has also underpinned the development of novel immunotherapies.

The challenges of the next 10 years will be to understand how to interpret the needs of an individual patient’s disease and then provide the most effective treatment for that patient. This will require continued close collaboration between scientists, clinicians and other health practitioners. The opportunities are enormous and that is what we are here to talk about. Enjoy the conference.

Gerard_Evan_small2013 Chair: Gerard Evan, University of Cambridge, UK

Key achievements/future hopes:

  • Development of antibodies (native and armed) in cancer therapy.
  • Appreciation of the role evolutionary processes play in the aetiology of cancer and how this shapes strategies for effective treatment.
  • The gradual, perhaps piecemeal, but relentless development of effective targeted and other therapies and the hope this has instilled in the research and pharmaceutical institutions.

Patrick_Johnston_small2012 Chair: Patrick Johnson, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK

Key achievements in cancer research in the last 10 years and what I hope to see happening in the next 10 years:

  •  The development of a range of new treatments that target the biology of cancer
  • The recent development of immunotherapies that have begun to transform the treatment of a number of diseases such as melanoma
  • The ability to develop genomic approaches that have begun to stratify patient treatment for a range of cancers.

Nic_Jones_small2011 Chair: Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, UK

A key achievement over the last 10 years has been the tremendous advance made in understanding the genomic changes that drive tumour initiation and progression. The combination of fantastic basic research that has provided a much richer biological understanding of cancer together with huge technology advances has really been transformational.

I hope that in 10 year’s time it will be the norm that cancer treatment of all patients is dictated by the individual patient’s clinical, genomic and epidemiological characteristics.

Tim-Maughan_small2010 Chair: Tim Maughan, CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology, Oxford, UK

The key achievement of the last 10 years’ cancer research has been the gradual revelation of the immense variability of each person’s cancer and its role in driving resistance to targeted therapy. In the next decade we will therefore refocus on curative treatment of earlier disease, using genomics and functional imaging to individualise first line therapies, incorporating targeted drugs, precise radiation and minimal surgery, to overcome resistance and avoid treatment failure.

Ron Laskey2009 Chair: Ron Laskey, University of Cambridge, UK

Past 10 years:
From a plethora of advances in understanding, diagnosing and beating cancer, I would select:

  • Emergence of humanized monocolonal antibodies for cancer therapies
  • Proof of principle of synthetic lethality treatments like PARP inhibitors which exploit specific vulnerabilities of cancer cells
  • Adoption of concept of pseudo-Darwinian selection in understanding and addressing cancer progression and resistance to therapy

Next 10 years:
My hopes for the next 10 years range from the ambitious to the pragmatic. They include:

  • Closing the gap between personalized molecular diagnosis and personalized delivery of treatments
  • More efficient translation of new knowledge into effective diagnostics and therapeutics
  • Resolution of the dilemma between drug development costs and drug affordability. Perhaps it is time to grasp the difficult nettle of extending patent protection times so that the high costs of development can be recovered over a longer time.

 Stan Kaye2008 Chair: Stan Kaye, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

In the last 10 years, the key achievement is the recognition that rational and patient selective drug development in cancer can successfully be informed by a better understanding of the underlying biology of the disease. Over the next 10 years I hope this will accelerate, turning cancer into a truly chronic disease through the use of targeted (and often combination) therapy.

 Alan Ashworth2006 and 2007 Chair: Alan Ashworth, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

The unveiling of the terrifying complexity of cancer genomes means on the one hand we are now under no illusion about how difficult a problem cancer is. On the other hand I am hugely optimistic about how this information will provide us with the wherewithal to discover better treatments and ultimately cures for the disease.

Tony Kouzarides2005 Chair: Tony Kouzarides, Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, UK

  • Discovered several new epigenetic pathways involved in cancer.
  • Showed that inhibiting the epigenetic reader BET proteins with a small molecule I-BET, is effective against MLL-leukaemia

Impact of the Conference – Views from your peers


Jane Cope
Former Director
National Cancer Research Institute, London, UK

Feedback was positive from the start. It’s not always easy to integrate the disciplines but that is no reason to be faint-hearted. We try to do something new each year to keep the Conference fresh. The involvement of patients and carers, and arts events which carry a message about the human experience of cancer, also give the NCRI Conference a distinctive flavour.


Chryso Kanthou
Senior Lecturer
University of Sheffield, UK

I was privileged to attend the inaugural NCRI Annual Conference in October 2005. The conference reminded me of the AACR conferences and enabled me to meet a far wider range of UK researchers than I would have met at other smaller more specialist conferences. The presentations from top scientists inspired my research. Since then, the conference has been a must for myself and my team.


Gillian Tozer
Professor of Tumour Biology
University of Sheffield, UK

I used to attend the British Association for Cancer Research annual meetings and this naturally led to attending the NCRI Cancer Conferences, first in Birmingham and then in Liverpool. I moved to Sheffield in 2004, the year of the 1st NCRI Cancer Conference. You’re never too old to learn something new and the NCRI meetings provide a great opportunity to do just that. Over the years, meeting up with other researchers at the NCRI has provided a great opportunity to make new contacts and discuss mutual research interests and it’s local, so my post-doc scientists and students can benefit now too.


Gerhardt Attard
CRUK Clinician Scientist and Consultant Medical Oncologist
The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust London, UK

As the largest cancer meeting in the UK, with presentations of a quality to match any international meeting, I remember my first NCRI meeting a decade ago as highly inspirational and informative.  It remains an important date on my calendar, as an opportunity for networking, face to face meetings with national collaborators and catching up on the latest data from a broad range of areas of cancer research.


Martin Christlieb
Public Engagement Manager
Department of Oncology, University of Oxford, UK

I first went to the NCRI meeting the last year it was in Birmingham.
I came from the Chemistry community before that and the range of science at NCRI was really eye-opening.
I got involved in public engagement quite early on, and meeting representatives from various patient groups has been a great networking opportunity.  NCRI is very receptive to public engagement, I’ve been part of the schools programme for three years and it’s been brilliant being able to communicate the excitement of cancer research to young people.


Isabel Pires
Group Leader and Lecturer
University of Hull, UK

My first NCRI conference was in 2006, where I presented the work from my PhD. I was very impressed about the quality of speakers, breadth of topics and opportunities to network. I have since continued to regularly attend the Conference, since, as well as learning about great science, it is a useful platform to maintain old connections and establish new collaborations. Last year my own PhD students presented their work, bringing the whole experience full circle.


James Brenton
Senior Research Group Leader and Honorary Consultant Medical Oncologist
University of Cambridge, UK

I regard the NCRI conference as a major success—which offers a very good balance between not too big and not too small (particularly for early researchers) and a wonderful opportunity for young scientists to have a chance to meet and talk to more established researchers. I always strongly recommend it to my lab and fellows.


Chris Nutting
Professor in Clinical Oncology
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

Congratulations to the NCRI for a decade of landmark conferences. These bring together the best cancer researchers to share ideas and aspirations for the future. Long may it continue.


Tim Illidge
Professor of Targeted Therapy and Oncology Deputy Director
Institute of Cancer Sciences, University of Manchester, UK

I have just moved from being CRUK senior clinical research fellow and senior lecturer at the first conference to Professor of Targeted Therapy and Oncology. I have participated in all 10 conferences and have been excited how the UK cancer research community have established this meeting as the national research hub. The quality of the research presentation, guest speakers and networking make this a key part of the research year. Having been involved in the development of CTRad with colleagues it was very pleasing the develop an annual CTRad trials meeting and clinical academic trainee meeting based at the NCRI national meeting.


Richard Stephens
Chair of Consumer Liaison Group
National Cancer Research Institute, London, UK

At the first NCRI Conference, we consumers felt like tourists. A decade on, we have learned to work together and to make an impact, as speakers and contributors. We continue to add to our knowledge and our understanding too, but we have a role in adding to researchers’ understanding of the patient perspective. We are no longer visitors, we are part of the conference.


Richard Shaw
Senior Lecturer in Head and Neck Surgery
The University of Liverpool, UK

When I first attended, my main interest was in presenting my lab research as a poster and getting up to date in my field of interest. As the years have progressed (I have been to all of the NCRI conferences without exception) I have been involved in leading my own clinical trials, supervising a number of clinical research fellows who are presenting and organising  / chairing sessions. Increasingly the conference is an opportunity to meet up with friends, colleagues and sketch out new ideas for grants and projects.  In my new role as national specialty lead for surgical oncology, I am keen to see greater engagement with surgeons at the meeting – it is important to release the full potential of cancer surgery as surgeons have lots to offer and lots to learn by getting involved with the wider research team.


Ros Eeles
Professor of Oncogenetics
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

My translational research programme focuses on genetic predisposition to prostate cancer, and its clinical application to targeted screening and treatment.

A lot of this work is in large collaborations and the National Cancer Research Institute meeting has been a top priority for attendance as it is an ideal forum in which to start and maintain these types of collaborations. In this era of collaborative science such team working is essential and NCRI has been instrumental in helping us to achieve this. Happy Anniversary!

Ricky Sharma

Ricky Sharma
Laboratory Group Leader and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Oncology
Cancer Research UK and Medical Research Council Oxford Institute and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, UK

I first attended the NCRI Cancer Conference in 2005, when I was a Senior Registrar in the Academic Radiotherapy Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, London.

I had previously attended the British Cancer Research Meetings every year since 1999, and it was wonderful to see this exciting new Conference bringing so many scientific and clinical disciplines together to share knowledge and to develop new collaborations.  I have attended the Conference every year since then, and I genuinely feel it has got better and better.

In February 2013, I was highly honoured to be invited to join the NCRI Cancer Conference Scientific Committee.  It has been very rewarding to help in shaping the conference for future attendees.


David Cameron
Clinical Director and Chair of Oncology
Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, The University of Edinburgh, UK

I have always found the NCRI conference a fantastic opportunity to hear world-class speakers present here in the UK. The Conference provides a unique melting pot of leading clinical and non-clinical researchers, patients, research nurses and companies, all hearing and discussing together new clinical and non-clinical research findings.
Well worth the trip!


Johann De Bono
Director & Honorary Consultant
London Centre of Excellence and Drug Development Unit, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

The NCRI Cancer Conference has been an excellent opportunity to communicate key advances in our field of cancer research with national and international colleagues, enabling critically important dialogue and generating collaborations that are accelerating our ability to translate cancer research into clinical benefit.

Nazneen Rahman

Nazneen Rahman
Professor of Human Genetics
The Institute of Cancer Research, London, UK

When I attended the first NCRI Conference 10 years ago the question everyone was asking was ‘Why hasn’t this existed until now? We need this!’. There was a real sense of the community coming together, building a forum to foster important, innovative initiatives to make a real difference in cancer. And that is exactly what the NCRI Conference has turned out to be.


Frances Balkwill
Centre Lead
Centre for Cancer and Inflammation, Barts Cancer Institute, London, UK

I aim to relate my work very closely to human cancer. As I am not a clinician, the scope of the NCRI, from molecular biology to palliative care and public engagement, provides an inspirational ‘one-stop-shop’. It is also an ideal place to meet collaborators, friends and work on new ideas.


John Field
Clinical Professor of Molecular Oncology
The University of Liverpool Cancer Research Centre, UK

I first became involved with the NCRI when the Strategic plan for 2002 was being written; Lung cancer mortality in 2000 accounted for ~22%, whereas NCRI spending  was the lowest of all cancers, with only ~3.5%. In the intervening years it has been heartening to see the new investments in lung cancer research and clinical trials, especially the fields of Lung cancer CT screening and in stratified medicines, which will in time reduce the burden of this devastating disease.