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Toronto Professor looks to Manchester to transform cancer care

25 March 2019

Categories: Precision Medicine

Professor Rob Bristow - chief academic officer and honorary consultant in clinical oncology at The Christie

Related sector

Life Science & Healthcare

Freelance health journalist and contributor to The Guardian, Rachel Pugh experiences innovation in action in at one of the world’s leading cancer hospitals.

In a scene straight from Dragons’ Den, a room full of Manchester’s top cancer specialists, researchers and patients were given two hours and the chance of £150,000 by Manchester Cancer Research Centre’s (MCRC) charismatic director, Professor Rob Bristow.

Their challenge, to pin down a high-risk, high-impact breast cancer issue for research in the city-region, and to devise a 10-second elevator pitch, plus the eye-catching national newspaper headline they hoped to generate in three years’ time.

Only one year on, that ambitious goal of establishing how to identify and treat young women most at risk of developing this aggressive disease has been transformed from passionate words to a fully-fledged peer-reviewed research programme.

It sees Manchester at the heart of a Cancer Research UK early detection project involving six universities on both sides of the Atlantic and £4m in funding. Its effects for patients will not be far behind.

The unconventional and audacious approach introduced by Bristow, which he has also applied to ‘brainstorm” five other cancer areas, typifies Manchester’s whole approach to health and wellbeing. It is focused on collaboration, thinking outside the box, and accelerating the process of turning ideas into health improvements for real people. Professor Bristow, who left Toronto, Canada to work in Manchester says:

“It’s a whole different way of thinking about cancer. It’s a whole systems approach.”

Manchester’s ability to attract talent and investment from across the world has become a significant talking point for those interested in the global health economy. The city-region has a long history of innovation in health and social care, but political change has brought new opportunities which are attracting the interest of increasing numbers of healthcare professionals and businesses around the world.

Strides are being made in Manchester to transform healthcare in a region with some of the worst health statistics in the UK because of its unique blend of assets:

  • The flexibility of local control since March 2016 of its £6bn integrated annual health and social care budget from the National Health Service

  • Home to the largest clinical academic campus in Europe and to the only fully e-enabled NHS trust in England

  • The presence of Health Innovation Manchester (HinM) - an accelerated pathway to deliver adoption of health innovations to patients at pace and scale and achieve tangible improvements in health and wellbeing for Manchester and beyond.

The possibilities opened-up by these assets have led to astonishing achievements in the cancer field.

The Christie’s world reputation for excellence attracts backing from both research and business organisations, hence its portfolio of more than 550 active trials (the largest of any hospital trust in the UK). In Manchester, cracking cancer is about collaborations between academics and organisations across the regions, and even patients, rather than working in silos.

The same approach can be taken across health in general, capitalising on Greater Manchester’s population of 2.8million (plus an additional 9million regional catchment area) who now represent an attractive source for companies looking to carry out clinical trials.

It does not stop there. Work is currently under way at the Christie to build a ‘dashboard’ bringing together hospital, GP and genomic data, so that individuals can be looked at for suitability for specific treatments alongside other conditions such as diabetes. It has access to an 11.8m patient data base - Roche paid £20m for access to it because of its rich information.

Evidence is already emerging of the success of the Greater Manchester approach to health since devolution:

  • The 58% reduction in emergency department attendances and the 82% cut in non-elective admissions at Tameside hospital through enhanced support for people at greatest risk of hospitalisation

  • Helping more than 3,200 long-term unemployed people to find work through the local commissioning of Working Well

  • Narrowing the gap on smoking between Greater Manchester and the England average (16.9%) from 21% before health devolution to 18% today

  • Rolling out personalised care approaches including innovation in personal health budgets for people at the end of life and for people with learning disabilities.

Many more areas are undergoing rapid innovation, including improvements in toddlers’ school readiness, the health of homeless people, greater access to mental health and guarantees of a GP appointment within seven days for every citizen (in 2016 it was 47%).

The whole focus is to make better use of hard-pressed health budgets.

Warren Heppolette, who leads on innovation across Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, emphasises the need for new ways of tackling old health problems. He said:

“Global health systems are facing a series of common challenges as we seek to contain the growth in costs, tackle health inequalities and better manage the burden of disease. We need to be alert to innovation in new treatments and technologies and help people to take more control over their own health.”

Manchester will be attending Health Innovation Week in Toronto. To book a meeting with our team please click here.

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