Press Release

Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium established

Today in Belfast, Health Ministers from Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States signed an historic Memorandum of Understanding that establishes an Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI (National Cancer Institute) Cancer Consortium. This will result in the development of joint cancer research projects, scholar exchange programmes and a range of other collaborative activities.

Mr. George Howarth, Minister for Health in Northern Ireland, noted that the scope of the Memorandum of Understanding is wide-ranging and will support diverse activities. He said:

“We look forward to combining efforts with our colleagues in Ireland and the United States. We are certain that this outstanding collaboration will benefit us all.”

The Irish Minister for Health and Children, Mr. Brian Cowen TD, described the Understanding as:

“a significant step in developing further a co-operative approach to the fight against cancer. I have no doubt that, working together, we will considerably improve our chances of tackling the disease. Cancer touches the lives of thousands of patients and their families. The Understanding signed today offers the hope of better outcomes for all people with cancer”.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the island of Ireland. One of the most effective means of addressing this, and of improving patient care, is through a structured participation in clinical trials. The Memorandum of Understanding, by encouraging more patients with cancer to take part in such trials, will directly enhance patient care and also provide valuable research information about different types of cancer treatment.

As outlined in the Memorandum, the scope of the Understanding includes:

  • creating an infrastructure for cancer research and clinical cancer investigations;
  • formalising and facilitating interactions between the cancer research communities in the three countries;
  • developing joint programmes in clinical cancer research with the anticipated outcome of
  • improving patient care; and
  • developing educational exchange programmes.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in advance of a major international cancer conference, which has been sponsored jointly by the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland, the Department of Health and Children in Ireland and the National Cancer Institute in the United States of America. Hundreds of cancer experts from Ireland, other parts of Europe and North America will attend the three-day conference, which opens tomorrow in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

Richard Klausner, MD, Director of the National Cancer Institute noted that several joint projects had already been identified and more were expected to evolve.

“The potential of this Understanding is tremendous. I am looking forward to the ideas and activities that it will generate”, Dr. Klausner said.

Initial projects will focus on enhanced co-ordination of the Cancer Registries in Northern Ireland and Ireland; an informatics initiative to support co-ordinated clinical trials throughout the island of Ireland; and training and scholar exchange programmes in cancer research.

The Cancer Consortium will be administered by a Governing Board, comprising the Chief Medical Officers of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the Director of the NCI. Dr. Henrietta Campbell, Chief Medical Officer in Northern Ireland said:

“Cancer is a world-wide problem that requires international collaboration. This partnership with the NCI and our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland will complement and strengthen the reorganisation of cancer services in Northern Ireland. The network of cancer care created by the development of the cancer and cancer units will greatly facilitate cancer research”.

Dr. James Kiely, Chief Medical Officer in Ireland agreed:

“Cancer knows no boundaries. We must harness the potential offered by today’s Memorandum of Understanding to promote continuing and further co-operation between all three countries in this important area.”