Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Clinical Trials & Research

This month we are going to touch upon the subject of clinical trials – why we are interested in them, why people take part and how they are important for developments in medical research.

A blood cancer diagnosis typically leads to a frank and realistic conversation with a consultant about available treatment options. One option that is not always presented is that of being part of a research study.

Clinical trials are carefully controlled studies of new or existing drugs; the trials are conducted by doctors and closely monitored by specialist nurses. Researchers are constantly trying to find ways to increase the effectiveness or decrease the side effects of treatment options. A treatment that is proven safe and effective in a clinical trial often goes on to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is how new lifesaving treatments are brought to market.

Through participation in a clinical trial, a patient can gain early access to an experimental therapy that may be more effective than standard treatments. Trials may also provide an alternative for someone unable to undergo a recommended procedure such as a transplant. 

Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI recently funded 10 places on a clinical trial for leukaemia patients, the trial known as AML 18 it has been developed for older patients with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and High Risk Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS).  The drug involved is called Mylotarg and in previous trials it has been shown that the addition of Mylotarg to the therapeutic regimen reduced the risk of AML coming back in most patients except those with poor risk factors.

This is the first time that the charity have funded a patient trial but the benefits for both patients and research are undeniable. In other blogs we have mentioned the rigorous testing and screening process that researchers must apply to their projects, having patient samples and data from a clinical trial is integral to support this process and confirm existing theories. Only through clinical trials can researchers and doctors gain insight and answers about the safety and effectiveness of drugs and therapies. Ground breaking scientific advances in the present and the past were possible only because of participation of volunteers, both healthy and those diagnosed with an illness, in clinical trials.

Unfortunately the main issue for Northern Ireland patients wishing to take part in a clinical trial is the funding, or more so the lack there of. Professor Curly Morris the Chair of the Medical and Scientific Advisory board elaborates; ‘For several years now through the cancer drugs fund, patients in England have been getting access to treatments that are currently denied to those in Northern Ireland. This has denied Northern Ireland patients receiving drugs which could be part of their cure or extend the length and quality of their life.’

We hope that by supporting these successful trials more funding will be made available for trials in the future.