Cancer research activity down by almost half during pandemic: Irish Cancer Society
Vital cancer research aimed at developing new treatments and improving care fell by half due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish Cancer Society has revealed.
The number of patients recruited to clinical trials, so vital to improving survival and funded in part by the Society, has fallen by 45% in the first three months of 2021 compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the national cancer trials organisation, Cancer Trials Ireland.
Irish Cancer Society Director of Research Dr Robert O’Connor said: “Covid-19 has meant reduced access to labs and equipment, disrupted patient treatment, as well as researchers and staff being diverted to pandemic response work. As a result, the stated national target of giving at least 1 in every 16 patients access to a clinical trial is now far behind where it needs to be, with just over 1 in 100 of all new cancer patients having access to trials at the moment.
“Cancer research has dramatically improved outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer in recent decades: cancer survival rates have doubled in Ireland over the last 50 years and that is all thanks to life-changing improvements in care and treatment made possible through research.
“Prior to Covid-19 we were working to an ambitious strategy in this area. But the impact of the pandemic has been so far-reaching on both cancer research and services that the entire sector, and the Government, must now come together to do even more to close the cancer research gap that has emerged by expanding our commitment and investment in cancer research to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.
“Through the unwavering support of the public, the Irish Cancer Society intends to drive a €15 million cancer research investment programme over the next five years to support the next generation of cancer research projects. This investment will allow us to expand our activity in a range of important areas, including clinical trials and projects that will improve the lives of those living with and beyond cancer.
“This investment will play a key role in the future of cancer research in Ireland but it must be just a starting point, with additional funding from Government and other sources more important now than ever.
“Cancer research is one of the most important tools we have to help us achieve a future where nobody dies from cancer – it will take a sustained and collaborative effort to achieve this vision,” he concluded.
Liam Cuddihy  from Waterford is currently undergoing treatment for stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He feels lucky to be enrolled in a clinical trial and says trials such as those supported by the Irish Cancer Society are crucial to improving outcomes for patients like him:
“Before starting chemotherapy in 2018 I had never thought much about how research makes its way into every cancer ward across the country: every cancer therapy and advancement comes from research breakthroughs.
“I relapsed in September and started a clinical trial at St James’s. I’m one of only eight people in this country who are on my trial at the moment. Thanks to the drug I was able to trial, my cancer is now in remission for a second time. Cancer research gave me my life back and I can’t tell you how grateful I am.
“I’m very lucky to have that option and I would love to see other people getting opportunities like this in future. It happens out of sight and is so easy to take for granted but research is absolutely imperative, and it’s important that it never stops moving forward.”