Well-designed clinical trials are the final step needed to convert leading research into life-saving new treatments. They are crucial to establish whether new cancer treatments developed in the laboratory are safe and effective in patients. New drugs cannot be made widely available until they have undergone this rigorous testing.
Early stage clinical trials can represent the last chance of effective treatment for patients who have no other options left. Until recently patients with blood cancer, especially rarer types, have tended to have less access to clinical trials than other cancer patients.
Bloodwise set up the Trials Acceleration Programme, known as ‘TAP’, in 2011 with the aim of improving patient access to new blood cancer drugs and speeding up the clinical trial recruitment process.
Carly Ringrose is a Bloodwise-funded clinical trials nurse at Southampton General Hospital, which is part of the TAP network. We asked her about her role, the importance of clinical trials and the impact that TAP is having.
How did you become a Trials Acceleration Programme nurse?
“Post-graduation I took up a post as a haematology oncology nurse and my curiosity and interest grew in this specialist area. The advances and progress that I was seeing, and the direct effect this has on patients and their loved ones, inspired me to seek employment as an early phase research sister.”
What are some of the things you do in your work as a TAP nurse to help people affected by blood cancer?
“A large part of my job requires collecting and feeding back significant amounts of data to the trial companies, so that what we’re doing today is meaningful tomorrow, but our main focus is patient care and support. We build strong and lasting relationships with our patients and their loved ones. We guide them through their cancer journey - acting as a point of contact, advisor and friend at every step of the way.”
What impact have you seen TAP have on patients?
“With blood cancers time is of the essence. We are able to offer the patient new treatment options, sometimes when all other avenues have been exhausted. TAP has allowed us to offer hope at times when there is none. In real life talk, this has meant weddings and graduations have been attended and new babies have been met who otherwise would not have been. When I tell people my job and the work we do, the most common response is, ‘that must be so depressing’. In actual fact, it’s the opposite. With the help of Bloodwise we can offer hope and support when needed the most.”
What do you see as the future for blood cancer clinical trials?
“A lot of headway! More treatment options, less horrible side effects to those treatments and ultimately more people being cured of their blood cancers. It is a very exciting time to be working in clinical trials. There are so many promising developments on the horizon. I feel so fortunate to be at the forefront of the fight against cancer and working alongside such remarkable people; from the doctors to the scientist to the patients themselves.”
The TAP network brings together 13 hospitals across the UK, coordinated by a central hub at the University of Birmingham, which provides resources and expertise needed to run the trials. A total of 722 blood cancer patients have been treated on 11 different TAP trials so far, with a further seven new clinical trials being set up.