Radio 4’s The Report recently examined the 2% decline in clinical trial activity in the UK, asking what effect the planned spending cuts will have on medical research in this country.
Clinical trials are vital to move scientific breakthroughs from the laboratory into life-saving new drugs and treatments. So why have we seen a decline in these important studies in the UK in recent years?
Pharma companies reduce investment in the UK
Larger, later phase clinical trials are normally funded by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in the results. These trials put new drugs on the shelf. But more and more, pharma companies are choosing to run studies in countries outside of the EU, meaning that patients here in the UK are losing out on access to new drugs being trialled.
So what is needed to get more trials going and what is getting in the way?
It is in fact smaller early phase trials, that test safety and effectiveness of cutting-edge treatments in relatively few patients, that are proving the most difficult to initiate. Without these studies the larger, later phase trials cannot go ahead.
Too much paperwork
As The Report states the complicated bureaucracy in this country means that it can take anything up to two years to get a trial up and running. And then there’s the issue of recruiting enough patients, especially for small early phase trials.
Taken individually the blood cancers are relatively rare and most clinical trials have very specific eligibility requirements, so patient recruitment can be an issue. And currently the NHS does not operate in a joined-up fashion that enables individual hospitals to work together to find patients quickly enough.
New drugs to patients, faster
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research want to change the way trials work. In May 2011 we launched the Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP) in the UK. This is a new network which will change the way clinical trials are run for patients with blood cancer and is likely to set a model for running trials in other diseases too.
TAP links 13 leading hospitals around the UK to run early phase clinical trials, testing important new drugs and treatments in patients with blood cancer. Running the trials UK-wide across all these key centres increases the catchment area and means that more patients will have access to new drugs. Our doctors will be working together to ensure that enough patients are recruited to make the trial a success.
We also have an expert team in place to streamline the processing of trial applications that can take an extremely long time. All this, we hope, will mean that our research flourishes bringing new treatments that benefit blood cancer patients, faster.
Tilly - Science Communications team