Watson: Red tape and ethics block cancer research

VARIOUS cancers could be cured within 10 years if red tape and “out of control” ethics committees are removed, one of the world’s leading scientists has claimed.

Nobel Laureate Dr James Watson, 82, said researchers could work five times faster if certain restrictions around clinical trials were removed.

“We’ve got to move fast and get a sense of urgency,” he said.

Dr Watson shot to international fame in 1953 for his co-discovery with Dr Francis Crick of the structure of DNA – a feat described as “the greatest achievement of science in the 20th century”.

Watson and Crick, together with Maurice Wilkins, were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research.

In a call to action to the world’s cancer research community at UCC last night, Dr Watson said: “It’s so easy to say we need to get more knowledge, because it’s so complicated, over the next 10-20 years... I’d like to change our framework to the next five to 10 years.

“War [on cancer] was declared in 1971 by President Nixon. I would like it to be no more than a 50-year war.

“If that demands doing clinical tests faster, with less restrictions. We’re terribly held back on clinical tests by regulations which say that no one should unnecessarily die during trials.

“They are going to die unless we do something radical.

“I think the ethics committees are out of control. It should [be] put back in the hands of doctors.

“There is extraordinary red tape which slows us down. We could go five times faster without these committees.”

Dr Watson was speaking before delivering the inaugural Cork Cancer Research Centre (CCRC) lecture at University College Cork (UCC).

CCRC’s Professor Gerald O’Sullivan said Dr Watson’s insights are “very realistic”.

“People should be hopeful. There are many leads and developments out there ready for clinical trial,” he said.

“If we look back at the history of the treatment of cancer, quite substantial progress has been made.

“More and more virulent and aggressive cancers are being cured.”

He said new developments in genetic diagnosis, better chemotherapy treatments, and improved multi- disciplinary care are all playing a role in the fight against cancer.

And he said cancer research in Ireland, including that being conducted at the CCRC is, and will continue to make a real contribution to finding more cures for more forms of cancer.

“It won’t be easy but the success rate will be greater,” he said.

Dr Watson, who has family roots in Tipperary, also received an honorary doctorate of science from UCC.

His visit marks the developing collaboration between the Leslie Quick laboratories at the CCRC and Cold Spring Harbor, New York where Dr Watson is Chancellor Emeritus.

* A video of last night’s lecture will be available on www.ccrc.ie from today.


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