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Capitol Hill hears how transatlantic collaboration has transformed cancer care on island of Ireland

Posted 15 March, 2024

An influential US Congressional Cancer Caucus has heard how a unique partnership formed from the Good Friday Agreement has helped save thousands of lives across the island of Ireland.

A delegation of cancer specialists who are leading participants in the (opens in a new window)All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) where invited to Washington DC ahead of St Patrick’s Day to detail how a quarter of a century of transatlantic collaboration has transformed Irish cancer research and care.

The briefing to members of the US Congress marks the 25th anniversary of the Ireland – Northern Ireland – US National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Consortium, which has acted as a catalyst for enhancing cancer research in Ireland and Northern Ireland and partnering institutions in the United States.

The island of Ireland delegation was jointly led by (opens in a new window)Professor William Gallagher, University College Dublin, Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University Belfast, and Ciaran Briscoe, CEO of North East Cancer Research and Education Trust, and also included Professor Jarushka Naidoo, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences/Beaumont Hospital.

The Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium, established in 1999 between the governments of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the United States as a direct result of the Good Friday Agreement, has helped foster significant collaboration both between scientists and health professionals on the island of Ireland and with their counterparts in the United States.

The Congressional Caucus heard how this partnership has significantly increased both the quality and quantity of research across the island of Ireland, contributing to saving thousands of lives and enhancing the quality of life of cancer survivors.

The delegation highlighted how the unrivalled tripartite approach has acted as a springboard for the development of an All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) – which brings together 10 universities across the island of Ireland, along with key stakeholders, to deliver high quality research to ensure state-of-the art cancer care for all. 

“AICRI is a virtual institute, whereby all the necessary skills and diverse expertise required to properly address the complexities of cancer, are being brought together across the island of Ireland,” said Professor William Gallagher, Professor of Cancer Biology at UCD and Co-Lead of AICRI.

“Through our work, we will gain a better understanding of cancer, develop more personalised treatment options, and ease suffering and save lives. AICRI will also help to deepen North/South and international collaboration. 

“Our journey to develop AICRI has heavily benefited from prolonged US-Ireland collaboration in cancer research over decades. Indeed, with over half of the leading oncologists on our island having trained in the top 10 Cancer Centres in the US, the linkages between our countries in fundamental, translational and clinical research are exceptionally strong. Cancer knows no borders.”

Welcoming the island of Ireland delegation, Congressman Mike Kelly, Co-Chair of the Congressional Cancer Caucus said the briefing was “a unique opportunity to learn from each other and to strengthen our transatlantic linkages to help deliver better outcomes for cancer patients here in the US and on the island of Ireland.”

Professor Mark Lawler, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Co-lead of AICRI, added that it was “unprecedented” for an all-island delegation to address the US Congressional Cancer Caucus but that it “reflects the achievements of this unique transatlantic partnership, ensuring that 35,000 patients on the island of Ireland could participate in clinical trials, saving thousands of lives”. 

“We have seen a 15% improvement in cancer survival on the island and a 550% increase in the quality of collaborative cancer research across the three jurisdictions. 

“Our European Cancer Groundshot, echoing the US Cancer Moonshot, has shown that patients treated in research-active hospitals have better outcomes that those who are not, categorically proving that research is a necessity, not a luxury.” 

Professor Lawler presented this work last September at the Science Summit of the UN General Assembly in New York, where it was recognised as a global exemplar of the health dividend of peace.

The meeting with the US Congressional Cancer Caucus comes ahead of the high-level ‘Euro-American Forum on Cancer’, taking place in Dublin’s Farmleigh House next month.

The forum, jointly hosted by the Department of Health and AICRI in collaboration with world renowned cancer organisations from the US and Europe, will see experts from both sides of the Atlantic discuss important issues, with a focus on lung cancer and cancer inequalities.

“[Soon] we mark 20 years since the introduction of the smoking ban in the workplace in Ireland, the first country in the world to introduce this key public health intervention,” said Professor Jarushka Naidoo, a member of AICRI and a global lung cancer leader.

“In this moment, we recognise the urgent need to raise the bar for patients with lung cancer, the cancer responsible for the greatest cancer-related mortality in the US, Ireland and worldwide for more than 50 years. 

“Importantly, this need is now matched by tremendous progress in novel targeted and immunotherapies for this disease, as well as the unrealised potential of early detection. Clinical progress in this area has been particularly aided by Irish investigators, whose work and leadership roles have continued global impact. 

“We are now at a critical inflection point, in which strategic investment in lung cancer will allow us to realise the true potential of these advances.”

“This represents an exciting opportunity for Ireland to pay a key role in a new era of Euro-American cooperation on cancer,” added Ciaran Briscoe, CEO of the North East Cancer Research and Education Trust and Strategy Lead for AICRI.

By:David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Daniel Rowan, UCD Research and Innovation)

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