Q&A with Professor Charlie Swanton

04 Dec 2017
We caught up with the new Chief Clinician of Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Professor Charlie Swanton about the future of clinical research and more. Amongst his many achievements, Professor Swanton has published over 120 papers, with first or senior author publications in the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Nature Genetics, Cancer Discovery, Cancer Cell, Science and the Lancet Oncology. His work has led to insight into genomic diversity within cancers (intratumour heterogeneity) and molecular mechanisms driving cancer branched evolution.
Q. Which aspects of the role are you most excited about?
I am very excited about developing the clinical training environment even further. I benefitted from Cancer Research UK's clinician scientist fellowship training between 2004-2008. This provided me with the funding I needed to gain independence and start my own lab in 2009.
There are very few countries in Europe that run such programmes, and it is fair to say our clinical training environment for academics is world class. However, the US remains far ahead of us in terms of the number of clinical academics in faculty positions in cancer centres.
Whilst clinical training is shorter in the US, it does appear that there are a number of opportunities across the Atlantic that we might be able to emulate here in the UK to further support our clinical academics in training and to endeavour to increase the number of MD-PhD faculty appointments in the next 5-10 years.
I think if we can solve this problem and improve the interface between the bench and the bedside, the future for translational research in the UK will be very bright indeed.
Q. What do you feel the strengths of the ECMC Network are and where do you see us delivering the most value in the future? 
The ECMC network is unparalleled in its breadth and depth. It represents a remarkable network to deliver world class clinical studies and leverage our fantastic NHS for patient benefit. The UK has a history of running innovative investigator initiated clinical trials, and the ECMC network provides the infrastructure to allow independent academic research in the clinical setting to flourish.
The ECMC network allows us to coordinate ambitious studies across a single health payer in a way that no other country can compete with. I’ve seen this first hand with our TRACERx study which has allowed us unimaginable opportunities to understand lung cancer evolution in minute detail. This would not have been possible without our ECMC colleagues and the network that has been created.
I am therefore very excited about the opportunity to work with the ECMC network to develop clinical trial platforms that allow investigators to address the most relevant questions pertinent to patient outcome and benefit, as well as leveraging and attracting pharmaceutical investment into the UK in a post-Brexit era.
Q. If you could be present at one scientific discovery, which one would it be?
I often think I would like to be sitting next to Charles Darwin as he drew his ‘I think’ diagram of branched evolution in 1837 at the age of 27. This single diagram changed the cause of history in so many fields and our understanding of modern biology as we know it today.
We thank Professor Swanton for his time answering our questions.
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