A world renowned cancer researcher has praised the work of the New Zealand Cancer Society and its Auckland research centre.

Emeritus Professor Herbie Newell is in Auckland this week to be the keynote speaker during Cancer Research Week.

Speaking ahead of a public lecture tonight , Cure for Cancer: Myth or Reality, he told the Herald the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre and the work being done there was "absolutely world class".

"They are one of the top 10 academic drug discovery programmes in the world," he said.


"They will take on the high-risk, challenging areas drug companies will be reluctant to take on. The academic groups de-risk projects."

Newell, who is based in England, said the level of care the Auckland/Northland Cancer Society provided cancer patients was also the best he had seen in similar organisations around the world.

"The balance of top-class research with the nursing support they provide to cancer patients alongside the psychological support is a really unique mix."

Given more than 50 per cent of cancer patients now lived for at least 10 years after they were diagnosed, there was an increasing need not just for research and treatment but support after treatment, he said.

"We need to think more about mental health than just physical health. It's a frightening diagnosis and the treatment's still fairly traumatic. It leaves people with late effects that can make their lives moving forward quite challenging."

Newell said the three-track approach being taken by the Cancer Society was fantastic and should be commended.

"If I had to be a cancer patient I wouldn't have any worries about being a cancer patient in New Zealand."

Newell said he believed the future of cancer treatment, and even screening, lay in targeted treatments.


His laboratory's most recent break-through was the drug Rukaparib which was approved for use by the FDA in America in last December after extremely successful clinical trials.

The drug had proven effective in treating women with the hereditary form of ovarian cancer which stemmed from a mutation of the BRACA gene.

Trials saw the tumour stop growing in almost all women with the cancer and completely go away in most cases, he said.

He estimated the drug could help about 70,000 women in the UK alone.

"When it becomes clear they are gene carriers, [women] are faced with the agonising decision of whether to have their breasts or ovaries removed before they get cancer," he said.

"We hope in the future that those drugs that are being used to treat those women may be able to be used to stop women with those genes getting cancer."