Spotlight Interview - John Chester, Cardiff ECMC

07 Jul 2021

Professor John Chester, has recently left as co-Lead of Cardiff ECMC to take up a new position as Director of Research & Innovation at Alder Hey Children's Hospital. John shares his thoughts on his time working at Cardiff and in the ECMC network.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be Professor of Medical Oncology at Cardiff University and Lead at the Cardiff ECMC? 
I started out as a laboratory scientist, before coming into medicine.  I completed a first degree in biochemistry and a PhD in transcriptional regulation at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, before studying medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School (now part of Imperial College) in London.  I retained a strong lab interest during my undergraduate and postgraduate medical training and, after being lured to medical oncology training in West Yorkshire by the truly inspirational Peter Selby, and being introduced to the joys of clinical trials by Matt Seymour, I spent 9 more years in Leeds, as a Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology.  I was lucky enough to work closely with Maggie Knowles and her lab team and to learn the importance of early phase trials from Chris Twelves.  Working with such outstanding leaders whetted my appetite to build a team of my own, and the opportunity to collaborate with outstanding academic oncologists such as Malcolm Mason, and to help develop early phase trials in Cardiff, was too good to resist.
What has been the highlight of your time at Cardiff University?
I have been lucky to have had a variety of strategic leadership roles during my 10 years in Cardiff.  In addition to my role in the ECMC, these have included spells as co-Lead of the Institute of Cancer and Genetics within the School of Medicine, and as Theme Lead for the Cancer Research theme, within the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences.  The clear highlight, though, has been the opportunity to lead a diverse team of talented and dedicated researchers as founding Director of the Wales Cancer Research Centre (WCRC), which is funded by Welsh Government via Health and Care Research Wales.  WCRC has worked closely with the ECMC and includes additional support for early phase trials.  It has a much broader remit than ECMC, however, supporting and promoting research excellence in prevention and early diagnosis, translational laboratory science, radiotherapy and qualitative research, as well as later phase trials for all types of systemic anti-cancer therapy.  Guided by an outstanding team of Lay Partners in our Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement team, WCRC has emphasised inclusivity and partnership, bringing together much of the best of cancer research in Wales.
What do you see as the strengths of the ECMC network?
The ECMC’s greatest contributions, in my view, have been in generating a sense of community amongst translational researchers in the UK – particularly through its strategic leadership and annual meetings – and in sustaining that community, especially in training the next generation of researchers through the Junior Investigators Network Group (JING).  Improved access for patients to new treatments, aided by the ground-breaking Experimental Cancer Trials Finder, and genuine collaboration between laboratory and clinical researchers, fostered in JING, offer real hope for on-going improvements in care.  I have always been impressed by the sincerity with which the ECMC Network’s Programme Office has sought to listen to and work with both the researchers within the Centres and to commercial partners in a joint effort which is clearly focussed on improved outcomes for current and future cancer patients
Can you tell us about your new role and what you’re most excited about?
My new role will be as Director of Research and Innovation at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.   This is a very different challenge which I relish enormously, working with a genuinely inspiring group of new colleagues in an ambitious and forward-looking organisation.  I will have the opportunity to apply my clinical and translational research experience in a broad range of pathologies beyond cancer, and, at the same time, improve the prospects for children and young people.  Paediatric research and innovation is, of course, a new area for me, and therefore a welcome intellectual stimulus.   It is a truism that children are our future, but there is a real buzz from the chance to have a positive influence on improving the health and well-being of youngsters which will extend long after my career is over.