Q&A with Professor James Larkin
As a centre of excellence with an international reputation for ground-breaking research in melanoma and in pioneering new treatments for the disease, we collaborate with our academic partner The Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR), and other respected organisations. Professor Larkin’s research interests involve trying to better understand cancer and its consequences, as well as developing improved treatments, particularly targeted therapies and immunotherapies. Professor Larkin is Vice Chair of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Research Committee and Lead of the Uncommon Cancers theme at The Royal Marsden and ICR’s Biomedical Research Centre. In 2018, he was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Since 2019, Professor Larkin has been Vice Chair of the Medical Oncology Specialist Advisory Committee for the Joint Royal Colleges of Physicians Training Board, and in 2020 was appointed as a Senior Investigator for the National Institute for Health Research.
How has the treatment of melanoma and kidney cancer changed during your career?
When I started as a consultant in 2008, both diseases were generally regarded as untreatable once they’d spread. With drug treatment, the average life expectancy was less than a year. In the past 15 years, drugs have been developed that will help to control the disease in many people and probably lead to cure in a proportion of people with metastatic melanoma and kidney cancer. This progress is a consequence of pioneering research and clinical trials, but there is still more to do.
What services do you provide at The Royal Marsden?
I see patients with the diagnosis of either melanoma or kidney cancer. I provide a comprehensive evaluation of their disease and recommend the best approach to treatment.
What services will you be providing at the new private outpatients centre in Cavendish Square?
The focus there will be on diagnostics as well as treatment. I’ll be running initial assessment consultations and outpatient clinics in both melanoma and kidney cancer. Same-day blood and radiology diagnostic tests will be available, as well as onsite treatments including immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
Which areas of research are you involved in?
I’m involved in developing new treatments for melanoma and kidney cancer – and the greatest advances in the past five years have been in the field of immunotherapy. The new generation of drugs – so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors – are now licensed for the treatment of both diseases. They are not effective in all patients, so trials are exploring combining immunotherapy with other types of treatments, as well as cellular therapies and vaccine approaches.
What does the future hold for treatment of these cancers?
The key will be in understanding every patient’s disease at an individual level, and being able to predict its course and the likelihood of specific treatment being effective. There are also questions about the correct sequence and combination of different therapies and their side effects. At the heart of these challenges are questions that concern cancer biology, which will only be answered through continued research. This is led in the Renal and Melanoma units by Dr Samra Turajlic, a Consultant Medical Oncologist and clinician scientist working between The Royal Marsden and the Francis Crick Institute. A key focus is on those patients who don’t benefit from the existing treatments, including those for whom immunotherapy isn’t effective. There is also significant work being done in the area of cellular therapy, led by Dr Andrew Furness, a colleague at The Royal Marsden.
What is special about the service offered at The Royal Marsden?
The Royal Marsden is at the forefront of oncology research internationally. It integrates the expertise of various specialists, all of whom bring a unique perspective to the discussion of clinical problems and are always mindful of new scientific and clinical developments.