IT MAY look like another building site – but an empty shell on the outskirts of Newcastle is a sign of hope for thousands of families across the North East.
Within weeks, patients will start walking through the doors of the new cancer trials research centre at the Freeman Hospital – and they have 500,000 reasons to thank the region’s favourite son for the new facility.
Sir Bobby Robson took just eight weeks to raise half a million pounds to kit out the centre after an outpouring of support for his charity appeal from all corners of the globe.
And as Newcastle fans prepare for a mass Merry Christmas Sir Bobby event in the city this weekend, The Journal has the first pictures from inside the centre.
We were given an exclusive tour of the site by Sir Bobby’s doctor, Prof Ruth Plummer, who will be in charge of the groundbreaking trials and who was also having a look inside for the first time.
Wishing Journal readers all his season’s greetings, former Newcastle and England manager Sir Bobby said the centre would give hope to every cancer patient who walks though its doors.
Prof Plummer is understandably excited about the move. She and Prof Hilary Calvert, director of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research, currently share an office in an old baby delivery suite at Newcastle General Hospital.
The rest of her team can also be forgiven for sharing her enthusiasm. Outside the General, the staff who analyse the results of the trials are based in portable buildings. But within weeks they will move across the city into a home worthy of their work.
Around 20 people will be moving in the New Year to the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre, where visitors will be greeted in an open reception area, with desks for nurses, offices for each of the three consultants, an open treatment area for patients and single rooms where others can be treated.
And at the heart of the operation will be the state-of-the-art facilities for developing and testing new cancer drugs, to be used by the same team which developed Alimta – the only treatment for asbestos-related mesothelioma.
Sir Bobby’s centre will have the capacity to double the number of trials currently taking place at the General, where typically there are between five and eight “phase one” trials at any one time. There is a similar number of phase two trials, involving the more promising treatments from previous tests.
Prof Plummer said: “We’ve looked at plans, but it’s really exciting to see inside for the first time – to see inside and to be able to visualise it.
“It’s bringing the whole trials team together into that one unit and it’s so much better than what we’re used to. What’s fantastic is that if we want to talk to data managers, we have to go into the car park to the portable buildings. It’s going to be much, much easier.”
Monday, January 19, has been pencilled in as the opening day for the new centre, when the doors and corridors linking it to the other cancer facilities at the Freeman will finally be opened up.
All based within a new building at the Freeman, the Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) has provided Newcastle with one of the largest and most advanced cancer centres in the country.
Alongside the cancer trials, patients can have treatments not available in most cancer units, including a Primatom unit – a linear accelerator combined with a CT scanner which enables rapid planning and highly accurate delivery of radiotherapy.
He is one of the most recognisable and popular figures in English football history, a knight of the realm, a tireless worker for charity and an inspirational figure