The UK Coronavirus Cancer Programme (UKCCP) is one of the longest running and most successful UK pandemic response programmes. We remain very active in our mission to safeguard, evaluate and protect cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, through population-scale real world evaluations.
The project was commended by the inquiry report of the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Vulnerable groups. It noted the importance and benefit of our research in delivering important data on vulnerable groups very quickly. Our data also formed the basis of the May 2022 independent government report identifying cancer patients most in need of further protection.
The UKCCP is one of the first clinical coronavirus networks in the world, established on the 18th of March 2020. At this time, the first cases of coronavirus were being identified in Western countries and there was widespread concern.
There was little or no evidence of the risk to cancer patients from coronavirus. There was a widespread belief that hospitals were sources of coronavirus. Clinicians were informed that individuals were safest if they were kept at home. Guidance had been issued that delivery of chemotherapy and radiotherapy during the pandemic conferred excessive risk and this led to patients and clinicians reducing cancer services. The only way that doctors could find out if what was happening to cancer patients who had contracted coronavirus was through social media channels such as whatsapp.
The urgent need to assess and learn from coronavirus infections in cancer patients lead to the launch of our inaugural project the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project (UKCCMP). The UKCCMP was set up in just 100 hours. It was the first project globally to establish real-time evaluations of cancer patients. It was the first project to establish that cancer care could be safely delivered during the pandemic and that patients should continue to access cancer care.
This initial study set the note for future studies which ran from 2020-2021 and lead to positive impact to cancer patients. Each study is characterised by a large number of cancer centres working together to share best practice about treating cancer patients as part of population-scale real world evaluations. A total of 69 cancer centres forms the “spine” of our UKCCP. Following each project, co-ordinated efforts are made to share best practice and communicate our project findings to patients, clinicians, decision makers and healthcare systems.
Having delivered these benefits to adult patients, our network further swelled in the Autumn of 2020. The UKCCP expanded to include the UK Paediatrics coronavirus cancer monitoring project. This had the mission to “learn from every paediatric cancer case”. It has provided flagship analyses of the risk of coronavirus to children with cancer, through the addition of a new network of 19 paediatric cancer centres and two global impact studies.
The achievements of the UKCCP is also characterised by the ability to rapidly evaluate new innovations that might protect cancer patients. In July 2020, at a time where the population was not able to access coronavirus testing, the Birmingham Chemo coronavirus cancer project (BCCP) was one of the first to establish a role for coronavirus screening of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Free testing of asymptomatic cancer patients on treatment now forms the basis of most cancer centres globally. Furthermore, in 2022, the UKCCMP collaborated to assess the clinical utility of antibody testing as a risk predictor through the National COVID/Cancer antibody survey.
In early 2022, having noted that blood cancer patients were at disproportionate risk, the UKCCP delivered one the largest global analysis of 877 blood cancer patients on behalf of the blood cancer community. This identified that uncontrolled disease was the most important factor driving mortality in blood cancer patients, further confirming the importance of blood cancer disease control.
Since 2021 and running to this current day, the UKCCP has been at the forefront of innovative work to evaluate important new strategies to protect cancer patients. This includes evaluations on vaccination and boosters. We have also developed new transformative “rapid evaluation approaches” to more expediently turn around streamlined analyses. This includes the effect of new coronavirus variants on cancer patients. Our projects continue to feed outwards to inform the Department of Health and Social Care, UK Health Security Agency and NHS England.
We are delighted that our innovative UKCCP network continues to showcase the best of UK cancer clinical and academic expertise. We want to ensure that the risk to cancer patients is reduced to the same levels as the general population. We will continue to work to ensure our population-scale real world evaluations continue to deliver the highest quality evaluations necessary to safeguard, evaluate and protect cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.