Catch up with Siru Virtanen, our new Project Manager (Reporting)

24 May 2018

Congratulations and welcome! Which aspects of your new role are you most excited about?

As part of my role I will lead on the creation of the Experimental Cancer (EC) Trial finder. This database will allow clinical staff to find the most relevant trial for their patients within the ECMC network, based on specific search criteria, including patient molecular profile.

I am really excited about what this project has the promise to deliver and I hope the EC trial finder will be a significant step forward to support improved identification of relevant clinical trials for cancer patients, faster recruitment, and further improve and accelerate communication and collaboration across the network.

What excites and inspires me here is the opportunity to make a significant difference to patient care and see immediate benefits for patients. This has been my main motivation throughout my career.

I will also manage the project to reconfigure reporting and evaluation of the ECMC trial portfolio. As part of this I will support the development of a new approach that should decrease  the effort required to provide, collect and process data for all involved and deliver more of the meaningful information we need.

I hope this work will not only lead to more insightful analysis and reporting but also support improved communication and collaboration across the network through better visibility of information within the Programme Office, our Funders, the ECMCs and partners.

To sum it up, this is a challenging but very exciting role. Being able to work towards something I care about is a real driver for me. I am also very much looking forward to working with the network and support its growth and success!

Where were you working before you came to the ECMC Programme Office? 

I have worked at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) for 2 years. I was first developing and shaping the Cancers of Unmet work and last year I was working in one of the discovery research funding teams. Prior to this, I was a Research Associate at one of the pharma companies, before which I obtained my PhD at the University of Cambridge, CRUK Cambridge Institute, specializing in treatment resistance in ovarian cancer. Before I came to the UK I was a visiting research at Stanford University developing nanoparticle-based siRNA therapy for prostate cancer.

After working over 8 years in cancer research in pharmaceutical industry and academy setting I wanted to be involved in improving patient outcomes more widely and in charity settings, and therefore took a position at CRUK. I am eager to apply my skills to this Project Management role at ECMC PO and working with the skillful and vibrant ECMC team.

The whole Programme office team has made me feel very warmly welcomed already!

What do you think will be the big changes in your area in the next 5 years?

In terms of the future, I think there will be several interesting changes in this arena. The trials are becoming more complex and there are several changes in the trial landscape which will have implications for patient recruitment and patient identification into trials.

It will be also interesting to see how quickly digital development, use of electronic health records and AI will be utilised to their full potential with the challenges we face with trial data sourcing. I’m excited to see if more innovative patient match solutions will gain traction in the future and we can adopt the technological advancement to facilitate clinical trial recruitment and patient matching in the UK.

If you could be present at one scientific discovery, which one would it be? 

This is a difficult one to choose! Initially I thought I would say that I would have wanted to be present at the epic setting of the discovery of DNA with its intellectual challenges mixed with human failings and unlikely collaboration.

However I think, instead I will go with a more immediate patient benefit centered, close-to-bedside themed scientific discovery. I would have loved to be present when Sidney Farber, the father of modern chemotherapy, recognised that folic acid stimulated leukemic cell growth and enhanced disease progression.

Working in his basement laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital and the clinic during the 1940s. His landmark study, in 1948, demonstrated that a number of folic acid antagonists, produced temporary remissions in children with acute undifferentiated leukaemia.

He showed for the first time that induction of clinical and haematological remission in this disease was achievable. It would have been amazing to be present and see how Farber's discovery marked a breakthrough in cancer research, leading to significant differences in these children’s survival and how these observations lead to the development and use of other chemotherapeutic agents for treating childhood and adult malignancies.