The first Unit to undertake clinical trials within the Medical Research Council was the Tuberculosis Research Unit which was set up in 1948, following the introduction of the first drugs to treat tuberculosis. Later, the Unit broadened its work, and became the MRC Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases Unit (TCDU). The Unit continued until the retirement of the then director Professor Wallace Fox in 1986. The HIV Clinical Trials Centre was set up in 1988, and included many members of the TCDU.
The TCDU began to conduct lung cancer trials in 1958. In 1991, the lung cancer team moved from London to Cambridge to become part of the Cancer Trials Office (CTO). This Office was led by David Machin and had been set up in 1977 to run cancer trials, as part of the MRC Clinical Oncology and Radiotherapy Unit directed by Professor Norman Bleehen.
The MRC Clinical Trials Unit was formed in October 1998 to bring together the research programmes in HIV & cancer. In addition, the MRC Clinical Trials Unit began to plan trials in new areas where there are important questions but there is either insufficient infrastructure or few clinical trials at present. These areas include multiple sclerosis, rheumatism and blood transfusion.
Recent developments have placed the MRC Clinical Trials Unit at the heart of clinical research in the UK. In 2001, along with the Universities of Leeds and York, we were commissioned by the Department of Health to run the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN). This Network aims to improve the speed, quality and integration of cancer research, with the ultimate aim of improving patient care. Since the NCRN was set up, the recruitment of patients to cancer trials has more than doubled.
Building on the NCRN model, in 2005 the Department of Health commissioned us to work with our colleagues at the University of Leeds to set up the UK Clinical Research Network