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Swann marks Northern Ireland's place on global cancer research stage at major conference

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

Forner health minister UUP North Antrim MLA Robin Swann.

North Antrim Ulster Unionist MLA and former Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann has said that Northern Ireland has become a world leader in cancer research. He was commenting after delivering a keynote address at a conference recently at Queen's University, Belfast.

The event, celebrating Northern Ireland’s place on the global cancer research stage, was attended by a range of international political, medical and academia leaders.


Mr Swann said: 

“Cancer is a cruel and unforgiving disease, one that thrives in a vacuum and which requires unrelenting research and investment if we are to work towards long-term better outcomes.


“The focus a quarter of a century ago in Northern Ireland was rightly on bringing a permanent end to the senseless acts of violence and terrorism which had claimed far too many innocent lives. Yet it’s also the case that cancer services were a major, but often lesser known, beneficiary from the political negotiations 25 years ago. 


“In 1999, a historical partnership was signed at Stormont between the Departments of Health in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and the National Cancer Institute in the United States, bringing into being a new major tripartite Cancer Consortium.


“The ambitions of the consortium were to reduce cancer incidence and mortality through cross-border and transatlantic collaborations in cancer research and education."

Prof Mark Lawler Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queens University, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, and Robin Swann MLA.

Prof Mark Lawler Pro-Vice Chancellor of Queens University, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, and Robin Swann MLA 

The UUP North Antrim MLA continued:

“It’s proven incredibly beneficial, with the volume of collaborative cancer research between researchers doubling, as well as major research projects delivered with US scientists. In diseases, such as breast and oesophageal cancer, large numbers of patients have been recruited to clinical trials from both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Crucially, in the 20-year period from 2000 – 2020, over 35,000 patients gained access to clinical trials, something which is widely believed to have saved thousands of lives.


“In 2021, as Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health I had the pleasure to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to reinvigorate and re-prioritise the Cancer Consortium.


"Over the last 25 years, Northern Ireland has become a world leader in cancer research, and with ever new drugs and innovative treatments coming online the global cancer survival rates are thankfully improving. But the reality is we are still losing far too many people long before their time.


“During the speech at Queen’s, I noted the Cancer Strategy for Northern Ireland, which I published on the 22nd March 2022, has so much potential to do good and, therefore, it mustn’t be allowed to become a casualty of the current stalemate at Stormont.


“So when it comes to doing all that we can to tackle cancer, borders should be no barrier. Even as an Ulster Unionist MLA, when it comes to tackling diseases such as cancer, I have no qualms in saying there is no such thing as too much collaboration, either internationally or domestically, if it means improved clinical outcomes."


“That is why the Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, USA Cancer Consortium is so important and so valuable. I'm confident that through Northern Ireland’s research and often pioneering approaches to medical treatment and research there are many more who will benefit,” emphasised the former health minister.


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