A DEDICATED team of hospital fundraisers has spent the last two years campaigning for the money needed to build a new cancer research centre. Now with the end almost in sight BARBARA FISHER has met the professor heading the fundraising efforts, and asked him just how important it is to find the rest of the money required.
WHILE it was great news that a £1.43million centre will be built at Mount Vernon Hospital, front line specialists are worried where the final £200,000 - which they need for the new building and for funding vital drugs trials - will come from.
Professor Gordon Rustin explained: "The charity started life in 1985, but this particular bit was launched two years ago to build a new clinical trials unit at Mount Vernon.
"We started off appealing for £1m but the architect came back with a better, £1.5m design which would benefit all 'chemo' patients, not just those in trials."
Former patients and other fundraisers, and money from grants, trusts and legacies have all helped raise nearly all the money needed.
A weary Prof Rustin now hopes the wider community may be wiling to help with the final push.
The 25 consultants, including ten oncologists, at Mount Vernon have all done their bit. None has raised less than £10,000.
But work on the centre should start in December, giving them just six months to find the remaining crucial cash.
Prof Rustin said: "We fund over 500 patients in clinical trials at the moment and they are all over the hospital.
"We want to put them, and the (other) patients, together in the same place, so staff can work together and the equipment and records will be together. Also we would be able to cover a lot more patients.
"For the vast majority, cancer treatment is not yet good enough.
"We don't cure enough - some cancers don't even shrink, and some cancer treatments are still pretty unpleasant.
"The only way we can bring in new treatments is to test them in clinical trials. About 40 per cent of my patients are offered the chance to go on a trial, and the majority accept."
Prof Rustin, who has been at the hospital in Rickmansworth Road, Northwood, since 1984, and for a time also worked at Charing Cross Hospital, has dedicated himself to the Northwood hospital full time since1995.
The international clinical trials come in a variety of forms. Phase one, 'guinea pig' trials, are where treatments are used for the first time on humans. There are few of those at the hospital.
Patients are more likely to be pinvolved in phase two trials, where it is thought new treatments may be beneficial.
Up to 100 patients are tested to see how effective these treatments are, usually for tumour shrinkage.
The majority of trials at Mount Vernon, however, are phase three, where one treatment is compared with another in randomised trials.
Prof Rustin said: "There is evidence to show that people do better if they are in clinical trials and, very importantly, because we do these at Mount Vernon, we attract the best staff, which benefits everyone.
"If the trials are cutting edge people are excited about that, and this is often the only way to access new and exciting drugs.
"We save £1m a year to the health authority by supplying free drugs through clinical trials, such as Avastin [bevacizumab] for bowel, breast and lung cancer, or sunitinib [Sutent] for kidney cancer."
Former patient, Brian Abbott, who co-ordinates the CCTR fundraising committee, said: "We have had a wonderful response but it is proving hard to raise the last vital £200,000 as everyone is very weary.
"We are mostly cancer patients who may not be the best fundraisers but it comes from the heart.
"I have been amazed at the bravery of people; some of the fundraisers have been very ill."