Professor Robert Hills

Lead for Clinical Cancer Research Methodology and Portfolio Lead for Haematological Oncology

Media commentator

I am a translational statistician working in the integration of clinical trials and laboratory studies. My main area of expertise is Acute Myeloid Leukaemia where I am statistician and grantholder for the UK NCRI portfolio of randomised trials.

The UK NCRI trials are the largest in the world, and have pioneered the use both of molecular screening to identify different types of patient to receive different types of therapy, but also the use of sophisticated minimal residual disease assays to guide therapy. Through innovative designs such as multiple factorial randomisations, and Pick-A-Winner approaches, since 1988 some 20,000 patients have contributed over 40,000 randomisations to answer 60 questions.

Additionally, the NCRI AML Trials give rise to a large tissue bank of well-characterised samples, and this gives rise to numerous translational projects wit hthe aim of identifying novel targets for treatment.

At present I am also involved with applying these novel designs to other conditions, notably within cancer, and developing new trial designs to address the increasing statistical challenge of personalised medicine.

I share responsibility for coordinating numeracy content within the undergraduate medical curriculum, and teach a number of short courses and workshops within the curriculum.

My research groups into several main groups:

1. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. I am responsible for the statistical design of the NCRI AML trials (the largest in the world), and for analysis of their findings. These trials have grown more complex over the years to keep pace with the fact that AML is no longer seen as a single homogeneous entity, and to embrace new techniques such as molecular monitoring. I additionally perform meta-analyses of therapies, such as gemtuzumab ozogamicin

2. Translational medicine. Translational medicine links the laboratory to the clinic and vice versa. The samples collected from the NCRI AML trials drive basic research which can then identify targets and therapies to be tested in the next generation of trials. Newer, more sophisitcated ways of measuring residual disease are in some cases superseding older prognostic stratifications as seen in the results of AML17 where a partoculalry poor risk group of NPM1 mutant patients could be identified. The trials evaluate these new translational technologies, as in the monitor vs no monitor randomisation, and the MRD-guided therapy in AML18.

3. Methodology. With the move towards personalsied medicine, trial design needs to evolve. I am involved in pan-European approaches to deal with the increasingly fragmented nature of AML with a number of genetically distinct subtypes.