Govt cutbacks impacting cancer trials

Patients cannot access new treatments
  • Deborah Condon

The number of people joining cancer trials in Ireland 'is falling drastically' due to Government cutbacks, Cancer Trials Ireland has warned.

It is responsible for coordinating cancer trials in this country and since its establishment in 1996, over 15,000 people have participated in more than 350 cancer trials.

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 the organisation, the grant it receives from the Department of Health has been cut by 20% every year since 2016, amounting to €3 million.

This is now having a direct impact on the availability of potentially breakthrough treatments, with the organisation unable to open trials for diseases such as testicular cancer, endometrial cancer and lymphoma.

As a result, people with these types of cancer cannot access promising new treatments.

"At a policy level, it makes no sense to starve an area of research that can offer people with cancer a lifeline, when cancer rates are doubling and one in two people in Ireland will develop cancer during their lifetime.

"As a result of these continuing cuts, the number of people joining cancer drug trials each year is falling drastically. In 2014, before the 2016 cuts were introduced, 3% of people in Ireland with cancer were on a cancer drug trial. Last year it was down to 1.5%," explained Prof Bryan Hennessy, clinical lead at Cancer Trials Ireland.

He pointed out that as an oncologist, he sees patients every day, some of whom have no options left.

"Every year, less people with cancer can access potentially effective treatment options when the standard treatments are not working. Cancer trials not only have a profound impact on the lives of people with cancer today, but they deliver in the medium and immediate term. Continuation of these cutbacks is unjustifiable by any standards," Prof Hennessy insisted.

Also commenting on this issue, Cancer Trials Ireland CEO, Eibhlín Mulroe, noted that trials can often be the best treatment option available to cancer patients.

"They offer a higher level of oversight because of the team nature of clinical trials. Up to 20 people can be reviewing data associated with a patient's response to treatment and there is great comfort in that knowledge for patients on our trials," she explained.

She also emphasised that trials are a very cost-effective way to provide cancer treatments as the trial drugs are provided by pharmaceutical companies.

"For every €1 in Government grant we get, we can attract €3 in investment in trials. So at a health policy and economic basis, it's a no-brainer," she said.

To raise more awareness of the importance of trials, Cancer Trials Ireland has launched the ‘Just Ask Your Team' campaign ahead of International Clinical Trials Day 2019 (May 20). It aims to encourage cancer patients to ask their healthcare professionals about any trials they may be eligible for.

New research conducted as part of the campaign found that 36% of those working on trials have been doing so for at least 10 years, some for more than 25 years. This gives a good idea of the wealth of experience that exists among trial teams.

"Some individuals spend over 20 years gaining the qualifications, training and experience needed to work in cancer trials, in addition to their many years of experience on the job.

"Given the number of people who work on cancer trials, this can amount to hundreds of years of experience and expertise behind a single cancer trial team," Ms Mulroe noted.

For more information on the Just Ask campaign, click here. For more information on Cancer Trials Ireland, click here.


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