The study originated with a request from the British Department of Health to the National Cancer Research Center (NCRI) in March 2010 to provide an overview of the current situation of research on mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. More or less at the same time, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) received a donation of £3 million from the insurance industry to be used within three years to promote new research in asbestos-related diseases. The BLF thus decided to support this study provided that it would be completed in time to coincide with the announcement of the funding opportunity for their research in November 2010.
Their approach was to email everyone in the United Kingdom known to be involved in asbestos-related diseases, asking them to submit their ideas for research (and also asking them to pass on the message to their colleagues). This report therefore summarizes the viewpoints of scientists, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, pathologists, patient advocacy groups, individual patients and caregivers throughout the country, including a group of international experts. Wherever necessary, we made every effort to balance conflicting opinions, even though there is always room for debate whenever so many different personalities are involved.
This study is divided into two parts: the first part is an overview of the current situation, in other words an analysis of the opportunities, priorities and potential obstacles to future research. The goal is to generate ideas and enthusiasm for research in this interesting sector, and not impose limitations on funding opportunities. Besides the £3 million from the insurance sector, the traditional sponsors of research have also agreed to fund high quality research in this area through existing funding channels, especially if there are clear benefits for patients.
In the time that we had available, we focused on the most serious asbestos-related disease, namely mesothelioma.
Study steering committee:
Dr Jane Cope (NCRI)
Dr David Cox (DH)
Dr Sam Janes (UCL)
Dr Mick Peake (Glenfield Hospital, Leicester)
Dame Helena Shovelton (BLF)
Mr Richard Stephens (NCRI)
This study showed that all the factors required to initiate research on mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases are in place in the United Kingdom. The key factors include the expertise, ideas for research, enthusiasm and a modest amount of dedicated funding, which could be used to kick-start a larger effort if skillfully managed. There could be an even greater impetus if the availability of tissue and clinical data from mesothelioma patients could be increased. Initially, this would require a more in-depth feasibility study.
Research needs to span the entire range of the disease, from the epidemiology and etiology (including tumor biology), screening, diagnosis and prognosis, to the treatment and control of symptoms. The topics and key questions for each of these sectors will be demonstrated and while the biggest patient need is mesothelioma, all asbestos-related diseases will benefit from a similar range of studies.
If new research is successfully funded in these sectors, it will then be essential to create a network to coordinate effective interdisciplinary communication, implement the results, and continuously generate new ideas for research.