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20 years of the MRC Clinical Trials Unit

01 October 2018

This year the MRC Clinical Trials Unit is celebrating its 20th birthday. To mark the occasion, over the next 20 weeks we will publish news stories highlighting 20 of the Unit's achievements over the last 20 years.

In the 20 years since the Unit was formed, its research has led to major improvements in how patients are treated, as well as how trials are designed, conducted and analysed. The Unit has also been instrumental in establishing research networks that have changed how cancer trials are run in the UK, and carried out ground-breaking collaborative trials in infectious diseases.

The Unit was established in October 1998, when the HIV Clinical Trials Centre (based in London) and the Cancer Trials Office in Cambridge joined forces, but its history goes right back to 1948, when the Medical Research Council set up the Tuberculosis Research Unit. This Unit ran what is considered the first modern randomised controlled trial, which tested the drug streptomycin for treating tuberculosis.

The Tuberculosis Research Unit became the MRC Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases Unit, and began to conduct lung cancer trials in 1958. The lung cancer team moved to the Cancer Trials Office in 1991, while some staff from the Tuberculosis Research Unit joined the HIV Clinical Trials Centre after that was set up in 1988. The MRC Clinical Trials Unit became part of UCL in 2013.

Over the years, the Unit's focus has shifted as new needs have been identified. The scope of the Unit's work has expanded to include trial methodology work to improve how trials are designed, conducted and analysed. The Unit still runs major trials in cancer, HIV and tuberculosis. We now also run trials on other infectious diseases, including hepatitis C and flu, and support the development of trials in other areas.