Wales Cancer Bank (WCB) celebrate its 10th anniversary


Thursday June 19th saw the Wales Cancer Bank (WCB) celebrate its 10th anniversary with a public event in Cardiff. The journalist and broadcaster Nick Ross, famed for Breakfast TV, Crimewatch and Watchdog, hosted some Q&A sessions and debates throughout the day. Nick is currently the chairman of the Wales Cancer Bank Advisory Board. His knowledge and experience of scientific research and medical ethics, along with his enthusiastic approach, ensured that everyone enjoyed the celebrations.

Alison Parry-Jones tells us about the WCB story so far and how they celebrated…..

The WCB story so far…..

So, how far have the WCB come in ten years? Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research Wales Chair of Clinical Oncology and Director of the WCB brought the audience up to date with the achievements so far. Over 10,000 patients in Wales have consented to donations of tissue and other samples. 26 different cancer types are included in the Bank, and 34% of patients have had their samples used in at least one research project. These projects are spread across the globe – within Wales, in European locations including Germany, Switzerland and Belgium, as well as further afield such as South Korea and Canada. This precious resource is available to researchers worldwide who are working on ways to prevent, treat or cure cancer.

A number of speakers at the event highlighted how the WCB have facilitated cancer research and development in both the academic and industrial settings. Dr Mark Eccleston, from the Belgian firm VolitionRX, showed how WCB serum samples have helped his company develop new diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancer. There was a panel discussion about stratified medicine in Wales with those involved providing different perspectives – the pharmaceutical industry (Dr Rick Greville, Director of ABPI Cymru), the pivotal role of the WCB in the development of personalised cancer medicine in the UK (Professor Peter Johnson, Chief Clinician for Cancer Research UK) and an international view (Professor Nik Zeps, St. John of God Hospital in Australia).

The event was attended by a number of WCB research nurses. Their role means that they are currently the point of contact between the patient and the WCB during the consent process. They provide information and reassurance to the patient when they are making the decision about contributing their samples. The lead nurse and a WCB patient discussed the consenting process in front of the audience with Nick Ross providing the questions.

And the future…..

Professor Mason shared the WCB vision for the next 5 years, with personalised cancer medicine at its core. There are plans to expand the collection of samples to include longitudinal studies and metastatic disease, and to work more closely in collaboration with industry. Patient consent models are being explored; the Welsh government has set a target for Local Health Boards that 20% of cancer patients across Wales should be consented to donate samples to the WCB by 2016.

The future of patient consent was the topic for discussion during the latter part of the event. Patient support and involvement is vital for the success of the WCB. Without the generosity of the people in Wales to agree to the donation of their samples the WCB would not exist.

An electronic voting system was used on the day to collect the views of the audience around this topic. They were asked for their preference regarding consenting options both before and after the debate. Speakers provided a summary of each option – consent via professionals such as clinicians and research nurses, or lay people such as past patients or other volunteers, or the opt-out approach which is currently being proposed for organ donation in Wales. Nick Ross stimulated a very lively debate from the floor.

The results of the final vote will contribute toward changes in policy and practice. Interestingly, there were more people in favour of the opt-out approach and consent being taken by trained lay volunteers after the debate than prior to any information being given.

The Health Minister for Wales, Mark Drakeford, brought the day’s proceedings to a close. Mr Drakeford mentioned how the creation of the WCB was one of the major landmarks of devolution in Wales, as it was launched during the very first session of the Welsh Assembly.