CANCER patients in the region are the first in the world to benefit from a revolutionary cancer drug, it has been revealed.

The drug, which works in a different way to anything else available, is the first product of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research.

Because of commercial sensitivities, scientists who developed the drug in Newcastle will say only that it works by boosting the performance of existing therapies.

More details will be revealed at an international conference in the US later this year.

The progress of the recently-created cancer research unit was revealed a year after top cancer scientists moved into the £11m Paul O'Gorman building, near the Royal Victoria Infirmary, in Newcastle.

The centre is on course to produce one new cancer treatment a year for the next decade.

News that North-East patients are the first to benefit from the centre's first drug coincided with the official opening by football legend Sir Bobby Robson.

Sir Bobby spoke about his own battle to beat cancer before he unveiled a commemorative plaque in the Northern Institute for Cancer Research Paul O'Gorman Building.

He said: "One day I was working on a football pitch with no pain, no swellings and no symptoms.

"Twenty-four hours later, a consultant surgeon is telling me I have got six months to live. I can tell you, I didn't like that.

"I have beaten cancer twice.

"I am living proof that it is not a death sentence."

Sir Bobby pointed out that, in 1966, the year England won the World Cup, seven out of ten cancer cases died.

"Now seven out of ten survive. It is an amazing turn-around," he said.

Sir Bobby said the opening of the centre was a special day for the people of the North-East.

Professor Herbie Newell, professor of cancer therapeutics at Newcastle University, said: "We have taken one drug from our research programme on to clinical trials.

"The drug we are developing is designed to enhance established therapies."

Prof Newell said he was unable to say any more about the drug.

Funding for the unit has come from the Government (£4.3m), Cancer Research UK (£4m), Children With Leukaemia (£2m), Newcastle University (£500,000), the Leukaemia Research Fund (£300,000) and the Newcastle Hospitals and Newcastle Healthcare Charity (£350,000).