Q&A: Professor Vinidh Paleri

01 April 2021

The Consultant Head and Neck Surgeon at The Royal Marsden and Director of the new International Centre for Recurrent Head & Neck Cancer (IReC) explains the centre’s aims.

Professor Vinidh Paleri
Pictured: Professor Vinidh Paleri, Consultant Head and Neck Surgeon at The Royal Marsden and Director of the new International Centre for Recurrent Head & Neck Cancer (IReC)

What is recurrent head and neck cancer?

Head and neck cancer is an umbrella term for cancers of the voice box, throat, lips, mouth, nose, and salivary and thyroid glands. The disease is hard to treat and, depending on the type and site of the cancer, between a fifth and half of cases recur.

What is the IReC and why has it been launched?

The Royal Marsden treats and provides second opinions for many patients with recurrent head and neck cancer. As a result, we’ve accumulated a great deal of expertise in managing the disease. IReC will harness the specialist knowledge of The Royal Marsden and the ICR to accelerate research and improve outcomes. It will bring together a team of talented clinicians and researchers to create a global centre of excellence and set standards in the treatment, palliation and supportive care of patients with recurrent head and neck cancer. The centre is being funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, thanks to the generous support of Charles Wilson and Dr Rowena Olegario and Keith and Isabelle McDermott.

What projects are being funded?

We’re setting up a national registry to help our understanding of recurrent head and neck cancer and capture variation in how it is treated across the UK, along with a tissue biobank to help us explore and validate key research findings. New research staff, including three PhD research fellows, a trial manager, a clinical trial nurse and a data manager, are also being funded to increase our capacity for early-phase trials of personalised cancer treatments and later-stage trials designed to change clinical practice.

How will the centre benefit patients?

It's important that IReC produces robust, hypothesis-generating data so that we can form firm foundations for multicentre clinical trials that, ultimately, will lead to new treatments and other interventions to improve and extend the lives of patients. We aim to explore areas such as minimally invasive surgery using the hospital's da Vinci Xi robots, and combining surgery with immunotherapy and other novel agents. We also hope to look at the role of viral therapies and biomarkers in developing new treatments. A key research strand is to identify to clonal changes in recurrent cancer and how they differ from the original disease, and to determine whether we can diagnose the recurrence earlier using blood tests.

What do you hope to achieve in the new few years?

IReC will help define standards for the treatment of recurrent head and neck cancer in the NHS and also set global standards for the management of the disease, as we hope to eventually lead an international consortium of centres.