Ten years after determining how he could save thousands more lives, Professor Charlie Craddock sees the realisation of a dream with the opening of a world-leading medical centre at the QE
Professor Charlie Craddock always seems to have a smile on his face, but right now he is a particularly happy man. More than a decade after setting out on a mission to change the way we treat some of the worst diseases he is about to achieve a significant landmark. This month sees the opening of the superb new Institute of Translational Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The project has cost more than £24million and will bring new hope and ground-breaking treatments to cancer patients – while at the same time creating 2,000 new jobs and confirming Birmingham as a world-class centre for medical excellence. Housed in a totally refurbished old hospital building on the QE campus, the centre has been funded jointly by the QE, University of Birmingham and Birmingham Children’s Hospital with matched Government finance.
It will bring patients suffering the most serious illnesses into direct contact with new ground-breaking drugs developed by leading pharmaceutical companies that will save or significantly prolong lives through a programme of intensive, targeted clinical trials. It’s a truly awesome development and one that delights the man who has worked tirelessly to find new ways to successfully treat cancers, while at the same time using all kinds of ingenuity to source the necessary finance to do so. “The new institute confirms to everyone throughout the UK, around Europe and across the world that Birmingham is great. Birmingham is world-class and world-leading,” said Prof Craddock. But being the modest chap he is, the professor is determined not to take any individual credit. He believes it’s all about getting the right health experts in the right environment and matching the right drugs with the right patients. Birmingham, with its large and diverse population, is the perfect crucible for this work. But the people whose lives he’s changed and saved since he came to Brum back in 1999 aren’t so shy at singing his praises. Everyone we spoke to from TV stars and sports celebrities, who lend their time and support to Prof Craddock’s work, to charity workers and ex-patients, are in no doubt about his vital contribution.
While the new Institute is the realisation of a dream, it was all very different a decade ago when he was appointed director of the QE’s blood and bone marrow transplant centre. Just after taking up the job Prof Craddock attended a medical conference in New Orleans which he says provided the ‘wow moment’ in his professional life. Oregon physician-scientist Prof Brian Drucker showed the benefits of conducting clinical trials of previously untested new drugs on patients. The survival rates were incredibly high and the time taken for the trials was significantly shortened. “It clearly showed that it was no use having new and interesting drugs sitting on a shelf when they could help patients who were being told nothing could be done for them.” On his return from the States, Prof Craddock set about creating a centre where the drugs, patients and clinical staff came together. “At that time we had no out-patients and no research structure,” he explained. “There was an old broken down building which I was told I could have if I raised the money to rebuild it!”
With the help of regional funding agency Advantage West Midlands, the Centre For Clinical Haematology was created in 2005. It houses an integrated clinical leukaemia and transplant programme and an early phase trial unit serving one of the largest catchment areas in Europe. It has played a central role in the delivery of 30 groundbreaking clinical trials and many of the drugs studied have now become standard for blood cancer patients on the NHS. As its director Prof Craddock leads a team of 80 specialists who have been responsible for saving thousands of lives.
Key to the ongoing success of the centre is Cure Leukaemia, the charity set up by Prof Craddock 11 years ago to raise the funds. “It has proved to be an enormous success, helping provide the means to connect patients with new therapies,” said Prof Craddock. “Many drugs would never have seen the light of day without that support. Many hundreds of people are alive as a result of having those drugs. Cure Leukaemia has raised more than £3million and has allowed patients to have access to £30million of free drugs.” Prof Craddock has carried forward his Birmingham model nation-wide through the National Trials Acceleration Programme based in a number of centres across the country. “Two emotions drive me,” he said. “First, a deep respect for patients who go through tough treatments. They are an inspiration. Second, I hate telling people that their treatment has failed – I want to create situations so that doesn’t have to happen.” To that end the University of Birmingham and Cure Leukaemia launched the Birmingham, Let’s Cure Leukaemia campaign which aims to help the city find a cure for blood cancer within 30 years.