close up of pink liquid being transferred into small tubes from a petree dish

Comprehensive collaborations

Gastro-Intestinal 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

Our Members

The group is made up of members from CCRCB, CEM, CPH and the School of Pharmacy in Queen's University Belfast 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.

Chair: Professor Dan Longley

Group Members
Dr Aidan Armstrong Dr Caroline Forde Dr Maurice Loughrey
Prof Charles Campbell Dr Donna Graham Dr Jane McClements
Dr Marie Cantwell Mr Ronan Grey Dr Simon McDade
Dr Declan Carey Prof Peter Hamilton Dr Damian McManus
Dr Mark Catherwood Dr Claire Harrison Dr Stephen McQuaid
Dr Helen Coleman                       Dr Caitriona Holohan Dr Liam Murray
Dr Vicky Coyle Dr Jackie James Dr Bode Oladipo
Dr Nyree Crawford Prof Brian Johnston Dr Colin Purcell
Dr Sonali Dasgupta Prof Patrick Johnston                  Prof Manuel Salto-Tellez
Dr Michael Devlin Dr Claire Jones Dr Richard Turkington
Dr Philip Dunne Dr Paul Kelly Dr Sandra Van Schaeybroeck
Dr Martin Eatock Prof Mark Lawler Dr Richard Williams
Mrs Cathy Fenning Mr Jack Lee Prof Richard Wilson


Colorectal Cancer Research 

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.  

Clinical Trials

It is the ultimate goal of the focus group to translate 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:

  • an innovative FOCUS4 adaptive clinical trial in metastatic CRC;
  • an Add-Aspirin adjuvant CRC trial;
  • a pre-operative Vitamin D CRC trial;
  • a BALLAD adjuvant trial in small bowel adenocarcinoma;
  • and an 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 programme 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.

GI Focus Group members have had notable recent success in leading CRUK New Agents Committee (NAC)first-in-human clinical trials.  Wilson and Longley are the PI and Scientific Lead respectively for the phase I trial of MedImmune’s MEDI3039 a novel 2nd generation TRAIL receptor agonist.  Wilson and McDade are the PI and Scientific Lead for the phase I trial of LY3177833, a novel CDC7 inhibitor developed by Eli Lily.  Wilson, Coyle and others are also involved in other early phase trials sponsored or co-sponsored by CRUK NAC.


Research on Other GI Cancers

Parallel to long-standing and established research in the Colorectal Cancer arena, the focus group has started to expand its work in focused projects in other areas of gastrointestinal oncology, including:

  • Oesophageal and Gastric cancer;
  • Pancreatic cancer;
  • Small Bowel cancer.

This work is 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.  

Work is also ongoing in rarer diseases of the GI tract, with a recent publication by Salto-Tellez on novel prognostic biomarkers for small bowel cancer.