The Royal Marsden

70 years of innovation at The Royal Marsden

As the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday in July 2018, we take a look back at what The Royal Marsden has achieved in the fields of drug development, radiotherapy and surgery during that time.

Drug development 


We were the first in Europe to develop chemotherapeutic agents. The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) discovered and we developed the chemotherapy drugs busulfan, chlorambucil, melphalan and carboplatin, which are still in use worldwide more than 50 years later


The first bone marrow transplant in Europe was carried out at The Royal Marsden.


Our trial of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen, showed that the drug considerably reduces the risk of women who are at risk of getting ER (estrogen receptor) + breast cancer.



Oak Foundation Drug Development Unit opened. Funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. The drugs developed at the ICR are trialled here for the first time, showcasing the collaboration between the laboratory and clinical teams. 


Together with the ICR we led trials in the UK for the immunotherapy drugs Vemurafenib and Ipilimumab, this was the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of metastatic melanoma for more than 30 years.


The Royal Marsden was one of the first centres in the UK to offer routine testing for the EGFR gene mutation on the NHS, so lung cancer patients with the mutation can have targeted treatment.


The drug Abiraterone is prescribed to tens of thousands of prostate cancer patients in the UK and many more internationally thanks to trials at The Royal Marsden, showing that it increases life expectancy and improves quality of life.


West Wing Clinical Research Centre opened. Funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, this area enables scientific findings about the genetic and molecular basis of cancer to be rapidly translated into improved targeted therapies. 




Pioneering work carried out at The Royal Marsden in irradiation and the development of diagnostic X-rays meant we were in a unique position to play a leading role in the use of artificial radioactive isotopes and we were the first hospital in the UK to use them for the treatment of patients.


We led major clinical trials in radiotherapy and imaging which changed standard clinical practice for cancer treatment. The START trial showed that in breast cancer, comparable levels of cancer control were achieved when treatment was given in fewer larger doses, rather than smaller doses over a larger time period. 


The Royal Marsden was the first hospital in the UK to offer routine testing introduce a multi-leaf collimator radiotherapy machine in 1992. This new technology was able to shape radiation and make it more flexible.


We were the first hospital to treat a patient with Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).  This highly focused radiotherapy directly to the tumour spares nearby normal tissue, enabling clinicians to increase the amount of radiation given to cancer cells, making treatment more effective.


We were the first in the world to deliver volumetric intensity modulated arc therapy (VMAT).


We led the international CHHiP trial which has shown that fewer, larger doses of intensity-modulated radiotherapy work just as well as more sessions at smaller doses for men with prostate cancer.


We were one of the first NHS Trusts to introduce a CyberKnife to deliver stereotactic radiotherapy. It delivers radiation in larger doses with pinpoint accuracy, meaning fewer hospital visits and reduced side effects. We are currently leading the international PACE trial using CyberKnife.


We are the first hospital in the UK and one of only seven centres in the world to install an MR Linac - a state-of-the-art machine which will allow us to see the target with the best imaging there is and then adapt the treatment to it with real time adaptive radiotherapy. 



The Critical Care Unit (CCU) is the only facility in the UK providing full intensive care exclusively for cancer patients and delivers outcomes for patients that are among the best in the world.


The Wolfson Surgical Suite re-opened in Chelsea in 2010 following an extensive rebuilding and modernisation programme to provide the latest and very best in surgical infrastructure


For more than a decade, The Royal Marsden has been performing robotically assisted surgical procedures for patients with a variety of tumour types, having introduced the groundbreaking da Vinci S machine in 2007 and the latest da Vinci Xi model in 2015.

Thanks to the dual console of the da Vinci Xi, which allows consultants to supervise trainees during live surgery, The Royal Marsden is training future robotic surgeons through the UK’s first cross-speciality robotic fellowship programme.


The Royal Marsden is the only Trust in the UK to use surgical robots for head and neck procedures, oesophagectomies, sarcoma surgery and lymph node removal for testicular cancer patients. 

Through our Robotic Fellowship Scheme – the first of its kind in the UK – The Royal Marsden is training the next generation of surgeons to use our state-of-the-art surgical robots.

We have a proud history of pioneering new technology and sharing them with other hospitals, so cancer patients across the country will benefit. This programme is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.