A Brief History of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute

Specialised cancer treatment in Manchester developed in the early years of the 20th Century with the establishment of two hospitals, the Christie Hospital and the Holt Radium Institute. These two institutions came together in 1932 on the present site in Withington, about 2 miles south of the main campus of the University of Manchester and the Manchester Royal Infirmary. The Holt Radium Institute was renamed the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in 1962 and a few years later received core funding support from the Cancer Research Campaign, which was subsequently transferred to Cancer Research UK in 2002, following its amalgamation with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. The name was again changed to the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute on 1 October 2013, to acknowledge the core funding provided by the charity.

The first Director, Professor Ralston Paterson, was the leading authority in the world at that time in the treatment of cancer by radiotherapy and he was instrumental in setting standards and establishing high quality radiotherapy treatment centres in many countries throughout the world. In addition, together with his wife, Dr Edith Paterson, he established a programme of basic research into cancer, particularly in the fields of radiation science, genetics and drug development. The research was initially carried out in a series of huts and converted houses adjacent to the Hospital.

When the Patersons retired in 1962, Professor Laszlo Lajtha was appointed as the first full-time director of the research laboratories. It was he who named the research laboratories after the Patersons. He built on the research programmes, started by his predecessors but, also, introduced research into his own fields of interest, experimental haematology and epithelial biology. With the financial backing of a local charity, the Women's Trust Fund, he developed the building which now houses the cancer research laboratories. He also strengthened the financial base by securing core funding from the Medical Research Council and the Cancer Research Campaign. Professor Lajtha was also instrumental in persuading the Cancer Research Campaign to locate the CRC Department of Medical Oncology, founded by Professor Derek Crowther, and who retired in 1997.

Professor Lajtha was succeeded in 1983 by the second Director, Professor David Harnden, who introduced molecular biology and built-up cancer genetics, as well as continuing the already successful activities in experimental haematology, radiation biology, carcinogenesis, epithelial biology. He set up a new Department of Drug Development which combined various groups working on drugs already in the clinic and new generation drugs.

The laboratory has now been further extended and improved with grants from the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund, the Cancer Research Campaign, the Christie Hospital Research Endowments and, once again, the Women's Trust Fund. In 1981, just prior to Professor Harnden's appointment, the Cancer Research Campaign took over sole responsibility for the major funding of the Institute but the Christie Hospital Research Endowments also provide much support.

Following Professor Harnden's retirement in 1997, Professor T. Michael Dexter, F.R.S. briefly became the Director of the Institute before becoming the Director of the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Nic Jones became the Director in March 1999 and in January 2006 he also became Director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC).  During Nic’s time as Director of the Paterson Institute he brought about a number of significant changes that revitalised the Institute, improving and expanding the quality of the research portfolio and facilitating translational and clinical research.  On 1 January 2006, the Paterson Institute transferred to The University of Manchester, which helped to drive forward and shape the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.  More recently, the Institute has established a Drug Discovery Centre, one of two Centres funded by Cancer Research UK.

On 1 February 2011, Nic stepped down from his position as Director of the Paterson Institute in order to become Chief Scientist of Cancer Research UK, which he is undertaking on a part-time basis alongside his role as Director of the MCRC.  He is also continuing to lead his research group at the Paterson Institute, which studies how cells respond to sudden adverse changes in their surroundings, known as 'environmental stress'.

Professor Richard Marais took up the position of Institute Director on 1 February 2012.  Richard is a world-leading expert on the underlying causes of melanoma and much of his work has focused on how the protein BRAF triggers cancer, which is faulty in more than half of all melanomas.  Damage to the protein locks it in an active form that drives cell growth that ultimately leads to cancer.  This work has already led to the discovery of potential new drugs to treat skin cancer that are now showing promise in clinical trials.