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Historic Day for Cancer Research on the Island of Ireland with Signing of International Memorandum of Understanding

16 Mar 2021

The governments of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States of America have come together to strengthen their fight against cancer through a renewed tripartite partnership.

Irish Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD, Northern Ireland Minister for Health Robin Swann MLA and Dr Norman E Sharpless MD on behalf of the world-renowned National Cancer Institute of the US (NCI), have signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to reinvigorate the Ireland - Northern Ireland – NCI Cancer Consortium.

The historic memorandum, signed remotely by partners during a special virtual broadcast ahead of the St Patrick’s Day celebrations, was warmly welcomed by Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD, the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster MLA and Michelle O'Neill MLA, and the United States Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Norris Cochran.

The Consortium aims to reduce cancer incidence and mortality on the island of Ireland through cross-border and transatlantic collaborations in cancer research and education.

Originally established in 1999 following the Good Friday Agreement, the Consortium is credited with helping to save lives and enhancing the quality of life of many cancer survivors. In the past two decades it has established robust cancer clinical trials infrastructure on the island of Ireland and trained over 500 clinicians, health care professionals and scientists to bolster research and knowledge sharing.

Facilitated by cross border trade body, InterTradeIreland, the historic Memorandum of Understanding will build on the strong foundations laid by the original partnership, to further critical cancer research and ensure that the island of Ireland remains firmly embedded on the global cancer research map. Areas of focus will include enhancing clinical trials for patients across the island of Ireland, supporting research and providing additional training for the next generation of health care professionals and scientists to support cancer care and research.

Signing the memorandum on behalf of the Irish Government, the Irish Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD said, “We have made significant progress in developing cancer services in Ireland. Working together with Northern Ireland and the United States, we can build on this and really have an impact on preventing cancer, and on improving the lives of those living with and beyond their cancer diagnosis. This renewed Cancer Consortium will increase the sharing of knowledge, experience and best practice across areas including prevention, research and innovation to the benefit of cancer patients.”

The Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA added, “I welcome the opportunity to resign the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium MOU. Unfortunately, we are all too aware of the challenges cancer presents right across our jurisdictions but this multilateral partnership will enable us to continue to improve clinical cancer services and patient care nationally, and to foster joint collaborations in cancer research and development. It is particularly timely for us to be further building on strong links and sharing of expertise through coproduction as in Northern Ireland we are currently embarking on the development of a Cancer Recovery Plan and a new Cancer Strategy Northern Ireland.

”Signing the memorandum on behalf of the National Cancer Institute of the United States, Dr Norman E Sharpless, MD said, “We’re thrilled to join Ireland and Northern Ireland to continue our collaboration begun in 1999 to support cancer research, control, and training, on a global scale. And most importantly, to work together to speed progress against cancer – for patients. Together, through our shared priorities, we can look forward to fostering innovative and impactful cancer research.”

Ken Nelson, Chairperson for InterTradeIreland, which has been facilitating discussions between the cancer networks, cancer researchers and government partners, welcomed the historical occasion saying it showcases the incredible power of collaboration. He said, “Over the last two decades, the Cancer Consortium has had an incredible impact on progressing cancer research. Over 35,000 patients have benefited from clinical trials, with the partnership also creating jobs and providing essential funding in a critical area. Cancer knows no borders, a mantra that lives at the very heart of this collaboration as it continues to deliver a wealth of scientific, health and wellbeing success across international borders. InterTradeIreland is strategically committed to supporting such exciting collaboration recognising that, along with the vital health benefits, it will also boost innovation-led trade opportunities in Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

The virtual event broadcast of the official signing ceremony was followed by a series of presentations from leading cancer research experts involved in the consortium who outlined the valuable work being undertaken via the Memorandum of Understanding. Those viewing also heard from patient advocates who have personally benefited from cancer research projects enabled by the original partnership.

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