Diagram showing structure of GI Focus Group

The Gastro-Intestinal Focus Group has established a comprehensive collaboration between basic and translational scientists, clinician scientists, clinical academics, epidemiologists, oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, bio-informaticians and medicinal chemists from CCRCB, CII, School of Pharmacy and CPH in QUB and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT). It addresses a number of important clinical problems, both in the early and advanced disease settings.

The main activity in this focus area is on colorectal cancer. This has built on the foundation of a basic/translational research group in CCRCB and an early and late phase clinical trials group in the clinical Cancer Centre, which have come together closely over the last few years. Scientifically, its major goals and achievements to date are the identification of novel targets, in particular for specific molecular subtypes of colorectal cancer (eg: mutant p53, Kras and Braf), and the identification of biomarkers of response to chemotherapy and targeted agents. Moreover, it is the ultimate goal of the focus group to translate this research into the clinical trials arena. For example, GI Focus Group members (Van Schaeybroeck, Lawler, Johnston, Salto-Tellez, Wilson) are leading Mercuric, one of the first early phase, European-wide, multi-Centre clinical trials based on science generated by the group and which is supported by European Union funds.

In addition to Mercuric, national and international clinical trials in GI cancer are led by investigators from the GI Focus Group including the innovative FOCUS4 adaptive clinical trial in metastatic CRC, the Add-Aspirin adjuvant CRC trial, the pre-operative Vitamin D CRC trial, the BALLAD adjuvant trial in small bowel adenocarcinoma and the Easi-Switch trial. Members of the group are also involved as clinical or scientific partners in other national and international phase I-III trials and are members of the NCRI Colorectal Clinical Studies Groups and Supportive and Palliative Care CSG as well as the EORTC GI group and International Rare Cancer Initiative Small Bowel Adenocarcinoma Working Group.

In the recent MRC Stratified Medicine call, CCRCB researchers (Lawler, Johnston, Salto-Tellez, Kennedy, Wilson) were successful in securing a Stratified Medicine Programme Grant entitled Stratification in COloRectal cancer: from biology to Treatment prediction (S-CORT). S-CORT is a ~£5M progrmame funded by the MRC and CRUK. It involves researchers at Queen’s, Oxford, Leeds, Birmingham, Cambridge, London and Aberdeen, industry Partners including Almac Diagnostics and patient advocacy/PPI groups including the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumers Forum. S-CORT will develop new approaches for molecular stratification of patients with colon and rectal cancer, utilising a cohort of 2,000 clinically annotated samples from patients in clinical trials throughout the UK. CCRCB researchers are leading 3 of the 6 Workstreams in this Programme, emphasizing our central role in securing this prestigious funding

Parallel to the long-standing and established research in the CRC arena, the group has started to expand its work in focused projects in other areas of gastrointestinal oncology, including oesophageal and gastric cancer, pancreatic cancer and small bowel cancer, building on clinical trials activity and previous research in these disease domains. The advancement of biobanking through the International Cancer Genome Consortiuum OCCAMS trial allows the collection of tissue and plasma samples to drive future translational research in oesophago-gastric cancer. Combined with the enhancement of radiotherapy practice through participation in the Neo-SCOPE and SCOPE-2 trials in oesophago-gastric cancer and the SCALOP-2 and PIONEER trials in pancreatic cancer, we seek to further develop multi-modality and personalized oncology in these disease sites.

Group Membership