A CANCER Research UK executive has defended the charity’s decision to withdraw core funding from its clinical trials unit in Glasgow, saying the facility’s output “was not of sufficient quality”.

Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK (CRUK), posted the comment on Twitter in response to criticism that the site - based at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre - is set to be downgraded, along with its counterpart in Cardiff.

The charity will continue to provide core funding – which pays for the staff required to run full-scale research studies – for seven clinical trials units (CTUs), all of them based in England.

HeraldScotland: The Herald broke the story on Saturday amid a backlash from the Scottish research communityThe Herald broke the story on Saturday amid a backlash from the Scottish research community (Image: Newsquest)

The total spend of £37.5 million over five years includes the creation of a new CTU in Oxford.

Funding for the Beatson-based site will be gradually reduced over two years, from October this year.

It follows a decline in fundraising during the pandemic.

The Herald revealed the plans on Saturday amid a backlash from Scotland’s academic and research community, who are understood to have been shocked and outraged by the move.

READ MORE: 'Shock and outrage' as Cancer Research UK axes funding for Beatson clinical trials unit

Responding to a tweet from a professor of biology at Glasgow University, who described the strategy of concentrating core CTU funding in England-only as “unbelievably tone deaf”, Mr Foulkes insisted that the decision was evidence-based.

Mr Foulkes wrote: “Peer review said not fundable – or do you think we should prioritise poor quality over outstanding clinical research (that benefits people wherever they live).

"And we just invested £4 million in Scottish clinical experimental medicine. Not tone deaf, patients deserve best.”

In separate tweet, responding to criticism from Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli – the principal and vice-chancellor of Glasgow University – Mr Foulkes said the charity’s executives “demand high quality” and that “an international peer review deemed the Unit wasn’t of sufficient quality”.



The Herald contacted CRUK to ask for a copy of this peer-reviewed evidence, but a spokeswoman said it is not publicly available.

It is unclear when it was carried out, by whom, and who reviewed the findings.

In his tweet, Prof Muscatelli said that Glasgow University and its medical school would be raising concerns directly with CRUK, adding: “Our view as a University is simple: cancer research should be located close to those communities most affected by this terrible disease.

"That is what patients, cancer survivors and donors want.

"Investing in cancer research and clinical trials close to patients is what helps address health inequalities and also an inclusive economy. This matters deeply to Scotland.”

Mr Foulkes stressed patients will continue to have access to early stage clinical trials locally, as a result of the charity’s £4m investment in its Experimental Cancer Medicines Centres (ECMCs) in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which recruit very small numbers of patients onto stage 1 trials – the phase where scientists gauge the safest and most effective dosing regime for a new drug.

The charity has also insisted that patients in Scotland will continue to have the same access to larger cancer clinical trials as they do now because all future CTUs will be “obliged” to open their clinical trials “where appropriate and feasible” to all UK regions – including the devolved nations.

This could mean a trial led by the Birmingham CTU recruiting eligible patients via satellite hospitals in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, for example.

Around half the patient clinical trials based at the Beatson are commercial studies sponsored by drug companies, and these are unaffected.

However, clinicians fear that a potential loss of jobs and expertise from the Glasgow CTU will impact on academic-led trials and patient research unless alternative financing can be found.

READ MORE: Glasgow Beatson at 'crisis point', leaked emails reveal 

It comes as Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Conservative MSP Miles Briggs - co-conveners of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party group on cancer - said they would be holding talks this week with SNP politicians and Prof Muscatelli to discuss "how best to make the case for the research to continue in Scotland".

Ms Baillie said CRUK's decision was "disappointing" and would leave patients and staff "understandably worried".

Mr Briggs said: "I will be meeting with Cancer Research UK and other interested parties this week to discuss the situation and future research projects in Scotland. We all want to see Scotland continue to lead in the cancer research field."

The Twitter account for Precision Panc - a specialist team of pancreatic cancer researchers - posted that the Glasgow CTU team had been an "invaluable support for the Precision-Panc platform", adding: "From trial coordinators, statisticians, project managers and pharmacovigilance support they are all fantastic.

"I am sure they will be successful in finding alternative funding, but wish they didn’t have to."



The blow to the CTU comes after emails leaked to the Lancet in June 2022 described NHS cancer services at the Beatson as "approaching crisis point" amid growing demand, ageing equipment, and staff and bed shortages.

READ MORE: Why are cancer deaths lower in 2022 in Scotland than before the pandemic - and will it last? 

A spokesman for the Scottish Government noted that CRUK had taken "the difficult decision to stop funding the Glasgow Beatson Clinical Trials Unit". 

However, he added that it was "pleased that following CRUK’s recent international review" the charity had allocated more than £4m to the Glasgow and Edinburgh ECMCs "to help doctors and scientists develop the cancer treatments of the future for both adults and children".

He added: “This funding has been made possible by a partnership between Cancer Research UK, the Scottish Government, and the Little Princess Trust specifically for children’s cancers."