Cancer trials hit by funding cutbacks

Important new trials have not been opened
  • Deborah Condon

The organisation responsible for coordinating cancer trials in Ireland has warned that clinically important trials have not been able to open here because of funding cutbacks.

Over 15,000 people have participated in more than 350 cancer trials since the establishment of Cancer Trials Ireland in 1996.

Cancer trials can provide patients with free access to promising new treatments, which in some cases, can only be accessed through such a trial. These treatments have the potential to improve the quality of lives of patients and even extend their lives.

However, according to Cancer Trials Ireland CEO, Eibhlín Mulroe, due to funding cutbacks of €750,000 per year, it has not been possible to open clinically important trials here.

"These trials would benefit people with a range of cancers including lymphoma, testicular and endometrial cancer. Furthermore, we are unable to be proactive in exploring opportunities to open new trials in areas such as pancreatic, lung, testicular and cervical cancer. This is as a direct result of reduced funding," she explained.

She said that one very important difference between cancer trials and all other cancer research ‘is that it is having a profound impact on the lives of people with cancer today'.

"Trials deliver in the medium and immediate term. Today our trials are providing patients with access to proven, but not yet available treatments, that can save their lives. There are people on trials today who would not be alive if they did have access to one of our trials.

"So it is really important for decision makers to understand that when the funding for trials is reduced, life-saving treatments for patients today can be removed. Their options are reduced. Is this a wise approach? We believe not," Ms Mulroe emphasised.

Meanwhile, Prof Bryan Hennessy, clinical lead with Cancer Trials Ireland, criticised Ireland's lack of progress in relation to the implementation of cancer trials key performance indicators as outlined in the National Cancer Strategy.

"The target in the National Cancer Strategy to double the number of people with cancer who can access therapeutic cancer trials, from the estimated 3% to 6% by 2020, would not only have saved the HSE millions of euro in drug costs, it would provide more patients with access to promising new treatments that would otherwise not be available," he pointed out.

He noted that in 2018, the numbers suggest that only 348 patients were newly recruited to therapeutic clinical trials, but figures from the National Cancer Registry of Ireland show there were 22,321 new cases of cancer in the same year.

"In 2014, the equivalent figure was 664 patients and an incidence of 21,380, which led to calculations of a 3% baseline figure. Since 2014 we have dropped to 1.5% on therapeutic trials. In other words, we have gone backwards," he said.

Ms Mulroe and Prof Hennessey mades their comments at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health this week.

For more information on Cancer Trials Ireland, click here


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